TODAY IS MEMORIAL DAY in the United States, and I hope you’re honoring it wisely. Not by going to the mall to enjoy all of the Memorial Day sales, but in humble remembrance of those who have fallen so that you can live a life of freedom. All over our country, men and women have sacrificed their own comfort and lives to protect others, both here and abroad. And that truth burrowed down into my heart a little deeper while I was traveling this last week.
My husband and I took a different route than usual to the Southern California mountains, one we haven’t traversed in a long time—actually, in the last twenty years. The first part of the trip was the usual, as we traveled west from Tucson thorough Yuma and made the pre-requisite stop for date shakes in Dateland and then to Yuma to dine at Cracker Barrel restaurant (where I snagged a special edition copy of MercyMe’s new Lifer CD). Then we passed between the eerie, shifting sand dunes (that never look the same from one trip to the next) and sped off to the area around El Centro, California where we turned north and headed toward the Palm Springs area. This time, though, we took the east side of the Salton Sea rather than the west. My engineer husband was curious to see what this post-apocalyptic-looking water mass looked like from that view. I had to admit it was a far more interesting angle than the west side offers.
By the time we get to the north of the Salton Sea, it’s usually pit stop time, and we have to locate some decent gas station or fast food restaurant sprouted out in the middle of this desert wasteland. It always astounds us that we manage to find something. From there, it’s on through the thousands of wind machines blanketing the landscape for miles. This is where the engineer goes giddy—watching all of those monstrous blades whirring, producing energy. He knows this landscape like the back of his hand. The vision transports him back thirty-three years to his first job out of college, on one of those wind farms.
Right around the western edge of those farms, we altered our usual course and took a turn north on Highway 62 through Yucca Valley. And this is where both of us were in for a surprise.
Out in the middle of that vast land of rock piles, sand, scrub brush, and Biblical-looking Joshua trees is a bustling little town. Twenty-two thousand people strong, if the town’s website census is accurate. We were amazed at the sight. And as we careened up and down the hills and looked out over the sand-brown and tree-greened landscape, the engineer kept exclaiming, “I can’t believe all of these people live out here!” For miles he repeated that line over and over in one form or another. And I kept agreeing with him. Not only did we find it amazing that all of those people lived out there, we probably found it more amazing that anyone would want to.
And then, as we ascended to the top of one of the hills, my haughty attitude was abruptly humbled. Off to the side of the road, atop a huge rock pile outcropping stood a flagpole, the Stars and Stripes flapping proudly above a black POW/MIA flag. Nothing else stood around it, not a house or any kind of building. One flag to show support of a homeland and another flag to let everyone know that homeland doesn’t forget the ones who were taken prisoners in another country during war and are still prisoners, missing, or unacounted for. And in one instant Woody Guthrie’s song “This Land is Your Land” popped into my head, and I realized that this seemingly barren landscape was someone’s beloved homeland. A land they felt was worth fighting and dying for; a land worth waving the country’s flag over. A land that—in some respects—belongs to me and the rest of our country as much as it does to the people who live there.
In Big Bear we feasted on the lake and snow-clad mountains and marveled how this terrain of deep green and vibrant blue was only a forty-five minute drive from the parched desert. And it deepened our love for the diversity of this country.
On our way back home a week later, I looked for the flags. And they were still there, flapping and hanging tightly to the flagpole in the vicious winds, proudly proclaiming their symbolic statements. It was a fitting way to kick off the Memorial Day weekend, where we take one day to remember the fallen soldiers that have sacrificed so that landowner can lay claim to his acres of rocks and live free. So all of us in this country can lay claim to our own parcels—expansive or puny—and live free.
The miles and miles and miles of parched desert didn’t look so forlorn and forsaken to me on the return trip. It actually looked—beautiful. The engineer agreed, and we were doing a lot of rejoicing on the drive home, (MercyMe music aided the mood), and as we stopped in Westmoreland, California to sample their dates and date shakes and buy local olive oil and raw honey. (Most of the farms around there also raise bees, and the stacked little white boxes were covered with shade material to keep the precious little pollinators from scorching in the rising temperatures.) And we rejoiced as we re-crossed the Colorado River and re-entered Arizona and stopped again at Cracker Barrel for campfire chicken and Rainbow trout dinners before making the final leg of our journey home. We arrived home more grateful than ever, and more in awe of our beloved homeland.
And today I'm remembering, all those men and women who died for me, for this country, be it 240 years ago during the country's founding, or in our bloody Civil War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, or any other battlefield they were called to serve in. Today is not really a day to celebrate. That day comes on July 4, when we celebrate the founding of our nation. Today is a day to honor, remember, say an extra prayer for peace.
And to thank God that there are men and women willing to fight for freedom, and to honor those who died for it.
Until next week,
May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).
Photos by Andrea Arthur Owan, Chris Owan, Parker Owan, and Google Images