The Final Salute: An Act of Unity
The last few years, we Americans have been in the thick of a great divide, a magnitude of cultural upheaval like I’ve never seen.
There seems to be little to bring us together. It feels like we have lost any sense of common ground or basic respect for one another. Left against Right. Blue vs. Red.
The last few months have been enough for me to figuratively throw my hands up in defeat, hopeless to believe that we Americans can ever find a way to come together.
I experienced a tiny flicker of hope that stirred my heart.
My sister, cousin, and I walked expectantly through the main floor of the hospital on our way to meet a surgeon for consultation after a serious procedure on a loved one.
We had thirty minutes to get to the room for a meeting with the doctor.
As we approached the main lobby we saw many people—nurses, doctors, employees, hospital patients, and visitors—lined up on each side.
Curious, we stopped to ask a woman in scrubs what was going on.
“We’re gathering for a final salute.”
“What is that?”
“When a veteran passes away, everyone available and able to come to the lobby gathers to line up on each side to show respect for the recently deceased veteran and family as they escort their loved one to the front door of the hospital. You are welcome to stay.”
The three of us have fathers who served and numerous relatives who are veterans. We knew we had a little extra time so we lined up to witness this event.
As we awaited the veteran and family, I looked around the lobby. There must have been about 60 people spontaneously gathered. People of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, and cultures.
All standing silently awaiting an opportunity to give a few minutes of honor and respect to someone they didn’t know who sacrificed their all to ensure our freedom.
Suddenly I saw people put their hand over their heart in salute to the American flag and the veteran. As we all raised our hands I saw the slow procession—one person on each end of a rolling gurney holding the flag-draped veteran. The family walking behind followed by a medical team bringing up the rear of the procession.
The group stopped mid-way through the lobby, surrounded on both sides by strangers pausing to salute.
The two people pushing the gurney stopped and conducted the flag folding ceremony then respectfully presented the family with the top flag, leaving a second one still draping the veteran and gurney.
After presenting the flag, they announced the passing of the veteran who had bravely sacrificed and served our country and said thank you to the family for their sacrifice as well. Then they held a moment of silence for the deceased. At the conclusion, we were told, “Thank you, God bless you, you are now dismissed.”
I stood transfixed and teary-eyed by the entire event and at the conclusion turned to my sister and cousin. We were all deeply moved and could not find words for several minutes. We stood together and reflected on what a meaningful scene we just witnessed and how grateful we were to have stumbled upon such an incredible opportunity.
Most of all, to come together—to see and feel what happens when we band together to support families in their time of grief.
To honor the fallen.
To feel the bonds of patriotism that bind us together in community.
Today I saw hope in action.
I pray that every one of us in this country has an opportunity to do some little something to spark this sense of unity and maybe, just maybe, we can regain a basic sense of decency, respect, grace, and God-given love for one another.
(What events or small acts of kindness have you seen that promote unity?)