Memorial Day Services pay tribute in Big Sandy
By Lisa Schmidt.
Sometimes a person knows she is immersed in greatness, yet can’t tell you how she knows.
Maybe it’s the look directly into her eyes from another’s — eyes that might twinkle with a private secret, but never waver.
Maybe it’s the walk she observes – the feet might shuffle a bit, but they carry with dignity.
Maybe it’s the voice that insist she listen, courteous, yet confident.
Maybe it’s the stance she watches as our flag is raised, humble and proud.
I was privileged to spend Memorial Day in Big Sandy, Montana, at a grand celebration to honor all of the men and women who fought for our nation, but especially those who did not come home.
As the parade wound through the streets, I knew I was nestled among excellence.
As the color guard presented the flag while the audience stood with their hands on their hearts, all of the principles that our nation represents rose in my throat.
As the names of veterans who were buried in the cemetery were read and the people remembered, the gifts from the families who sent three or four or even five members to war burned in my brain.
At the potluck after roll call, I visited with people who have made this celebration a tradition — a girls’ weekend — since 1964, sharing the joys and sorrows every year until now the fourth generation of friends knows every Memorial Day will be spent in Big Sandy.
Memorial Day is past, but I can’t forget all that our veterans gave to you and me.
All of them gave their lives courageously for our freedom, our heritage and our future.
Our freedom gives each one of us the ability to think our individual thoughts and beliefs without retribution. None of us has to worry about a Nazi knocking on the door in the middle of the night.
Our freedom gives each one of us the ability to strive for our goals and dreams, without legal barriers blocking our path. Nothing stops us except fear. Our freedom offers courage to overcome that fear.
I am a rancher. The land calls me.
The land offers justice, equity, freedom and independence — sometimes it offers more than the people who benefit from it.
The land is honest, with no ulterior motives. It offers beauty, wonder and natural consequences that I understand.
Our nation is comprised of a lot of land so it makes sense that our founders, who grew up with the natural consequences of the land, recognized the beauty and simplicity of justice, equity, freedom and independence.
I am a writer. Words explain things to me.
One of my favorite quotes describes our national ethos.
Teddy Roosevelt described all of us when he said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who – at the worst – if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Roosevelt was talking about the best of our nation, the best of us individually and what our military men and women died for.
We, the citizens of our great country, don’t sit on the sidelines. We strive for freedom and justice with courage even when our faces are marred by dust and sweat and blood. We honor our heritage of daring mighty things to win glorious triumphs even when we have failed before.
The men and women who died for us were certainly in the arena, certainly strived valiantly and certainly spent themselves in a worthy cause.
I’m not a singer, but music, more than the land or words, relates our collective mood and our collective values.
Music speaks to us in a different way from words. Jazz, country, rock — even rap – connect us to one another.
The melody influences our mood. The lyrics define our world.
Music is a part of our national culture.
Roosevelt’s quote made me think of songs about people who dare mighty things.
One of my favorite songs, by Tim McGraw, is “Live Like You Were Dying.” Tim talks about taking courage in hand, rejecting fear.
After all, it takes courage to go skydiving, rocky mountain climbing, and 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
Loving deeper, speaking sweeter and giving forgiveness probably takes even more courage.
Tim sings about the same thing Teddy Roosevelt talks about – those who dare mighty things to win glorious triumphs.
On Memorial Day, we honor those who died while daring mighty things.
Those men and women lived with courage and conviction. By honoring them, we bolster our own courage and conviction.
My favorite song, one I belt out every time I drive the tractor, is Elvis’ version of “My Way.” Frank Sinatra made it popular first.
Elvis and Frank lived a life that’s full, traveled each and every highway and did it their way. Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew, when they bit off more than they could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt, they ate it up and spit it out.
They faced it all and they stood tall, and did it their way.
They could do it their way because our military veterans fought for freedom and independence. No queen is going to tell us how to live.
Our freedom gives each one of us the ability to choose our religion and values. Nobody gets to tell us how to treat our neighbors, or how to vote — although it doesn’t take long for me to get tired of the pontificators who try.
Most days, I’ll admit, it is easy take our freedom for granted.
However, I vote in every election because I can.
I shoot rifles because I can.
If I shoot a grizzly bear that is on the Endangered Species List, I expect due process.
I read and write what I want to read and write.
I raise cattle and sheep my way because nobody else gets to tell me what to do.
I heard another song the other day by Kris Kristofferson.
Kris said “I’d rather be sorry for something I did than for something I didn’t do.”
Kris was talking about our future, a future full of living and doing and taking risks, collecting our courage up in our hands and jumping into the arena of life.
In the face of fear, the men and women who stood for our country fought for our future, a future full of living and doing and taking risks, collecting our courage up in our hands and jumping into the arena of life. As they died, they might have been sorry, but they weren’t sorry because they lived in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.
Lee Ann Womack sings about a hopeful future, and thereby implies respect for our heritage, too. She wants us to appreciate what we have and who we are, our heritage. The legacy left to us by those who died in our name.
She asks us to recognize the humbling power of the ocean and the glory at the top of a mountain. She encourages us to take chances, but maintain our integrity, don’t sell out. And if we get the chance, to dance.
The men and women who stood for our nation, and fell for our nation, represent our heritage. Our legacy.
We stand on their shoulders.
We are capable today because they were capable yesterday.
We are courageous today because they were courageous yesterday.
We are grateful to those who stood, and fell, so we can stand tall.
Memorial Day is past, but I hope you still remember the gifts our fallen heroes gave us when they fought for our freedom, our heritage and our future. They gave up the opportunity to live with freedom, courage and hope so that you and I can.
Act with courage to honor them, on Memorial Day and every day.
And when you recognize that unwavering eye, dignified walk and confident voice, you will know you are in the midst of greatness.
-By Lisa Schmidt. Lisa Schmidt raises grass-fed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad. She has two children; Will, 21, and Abby, 12. Lisa can be reached at [email protected].
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