I can let too much time pass by without any thought that I am an American, that these hills and valleys and prairies and oceans encompass a land that I love, a land that so many have fallen for in order for me to stand on its hallowed ground.
I can go for weeks unconscious of the sacrifice that someone else paid for my freedom-for my right to worship in the way in which I choose, for the privilege to work hard and earn a wage (low as it may be), for the ability to write my Senator and tell her to get with the program or to pay more attention to the issues I care about. I don’t always recognize my citizenship, and therein lies the privilege of it.
I may forget that I’m American, but Memorial Day never passes without my remembrance and recognition. In particular, I hold close the memory of Run Across Kansas-the craziest experiment in doing good that I’ve ever been a part of (or heard of, for that matter).
In retrospect, I can’t believe my parents let me loose alongside the Kansas freeways, pounding the asphalt in my Saucony sneakers with stalks of wheat for cheerleaders and road kill for mile markers. I can’t believe my parents ran with me. I can’t believe that one athletic and inspired woman’s dream of honoring veterans turned into this memory, this memorial in my own mind.
When I’m remembering RAK, I’m not thinking about the crazy events that emerged from the weekend itself (of which there can only be hundreds when you bring vans full of adolescents and their parents to the Colorado border and back in four days).
I’m thinking about Bob.
Bob and his wife went with us on RAK year after year, following our rented white vans in their big red pickup truck, serving as our liaisons from the VFW. I wish I knew his story of service in more detail; what wars he fought in, what brance of service, how he met his wife. The adults probably remember the particulars better than I do, preoccupied as I was by things like Twizzlers and boys and braiding my hair into cornrows.
I don’t know his story well, and I’m thinking today about how that wouldn’t matter to Bob. I’m thinking about how he never made a showcase of his service, how he offered his truck bed and a cooler full of water at the end of each mile without any expectation that we’d listen to a detailed account of his heroism.
I’m thinking about how his sacrifice was never on display, and how he continued to honor his beloved country by serving her youth. We were young and foolish and so, so lucky to have our eyes opened to the reality of what being an American really means-to pay attention to the wrinkled and decorated veterans who shared their lives and ham sandwiches and bingo halls with us.
We were so lucky to visit Tribune and Ransom and Hoisington and Hutchinson and Junction City and Manhattan, to pay our respects by running 8-12 miles a day. We were so lucky to eat goulash and calf fries and Dairy Queen concretes, to take a few days out of our summer routine to make much of their service on our behalf.
We were so lucky, because now we will never be able to forget.
Bob never needed to speak a word of his story to make it meaningful.
We needed to run in order to remember it.