Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, as the light of a new day was still meandering down our street, my across the way neighbor walked out to the curb to pick up his newspaper. He stood for a long time staring up and down the street, holding his paper, a look of satisfaction smoothing his creased face. I followed his gaze.
American flags, on thin steel poles, about ten feet tall, lined my side of the road. He watched the flags catch the wind. I could see the pride swell in him as the flags fluttered.
After a time, he turned on his heel and stepped over the purple flowers draping the sidewalk and started back to his house. But he stopped, turned, and looked to his right at the three small stars and stripes he had decorating his garden. Bending down he pulled the middle flag up, adjusted it, and stuck it back in the ground. Then he stood facing the three flags, erect, heels together as if on a parade ground, as if he wanted to salute, but couldn’t. Maybe because he’s retired Air Force and was not in uniform. He and time stood still. Finally satisfied, he trooped back up to his front door.
The night before, a family in our neighborhood had welcomed home their son from the war in Afghanistan and had asked permission to plant flags along our street. I don’t know the family, though I’m very happy for them. And on Mother’s day weekend! They–along with me and my neighbor–will remember this holiday for a long time.
Soon my neighbor’s door closed behind him and I returned to brewing my coffee.
Humans celebrate special events. We mark birthdays, rites of passage, anniversaries, raises, graduations, and important memories. Our lives revolve around rhythms: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Passover, Easter, Cinco de Mayo, July 4, Father’s Day (hint, hint), and more. If we can’t find a reason to celebrate we make one up.
Animals don’t do this. At least not the ones I’ve known. My sweet dog wagged her entire body, tail first, the same way every time I returned home whether I’d been gone ten minutes or ten days.
We Need Holidays
Perhaps we need holidays because we habituate to the remarkable. “Ho hum,” people living in Vail eventually say to a mountain scape. God paints a new, unique, glorious sunrise every morning and we need a Sunrise Service to make it special. Everyday is a gift but we need birthdays to remind us.
Without a rhythm of feasts and festivals and parties throughout the year we may have to resort to the techniques advertisers use on us shouting, “New and Improved,” “Free,” “Epic television” just to get us to pay attention to our own lives. Or not.
Skeptics ask, “Why celebrate mothers only one day a year?” Yes, we should be grateful for mothers and fathers (hint, hint), and sunrises and our faith and marriages and children and each other every day. But to set a day aside and mark it out for a special celebration elevates the person or issue or idea above all others, if only for that day.
Everyday Can’t Be Holy
This is what the word “holy” originally meant: “special or set apart.” Thus a holiday is a holy day, or season set apart for special recognition. Despite what Garrison Keillor says, we can’t all be above average.
Most of the twenty or so flags are still standing along my street. They are beautiful still; but now when I’m in a hurry to get to an appointment, I can’t drive slowly admiring them and praying for the family whose son returned.
And I have since seen my across the street neighbor once again retrieve his paper. This time he picked it up and went straight back in. Perhaps his coffee and eggs would burn if he lingered. Or perhaps we both had that one holy moment and that was enough. We simply need to be prepared for the next one.
Eugene C. Scott fancies himself a writer so believes he has poetic license to watch people and write stuff about them. He is also attempting to write about what it’s like to live spiritually for a year. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.