May 28, 2010

A Memorial For A Summertime Ride

This weekend is Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer [Enter: Sigh of relief]

Summer means no more snow, no more cold nights and no more bundling up in jackets, scarves or hats. Summer means running around in flip-flops, short shorts and tank tops. Being able to drop the top on your car, open the sunroof or roll down the windows.

Summer is a time when we’ve replaced hot cocoa with ice cream; Christmas lights for lightening bugs and warm blankets for sandy beach towels. Instead of being hit in the face with cold air as you walk out your front door, you’re hit with a heat wave that smells faintly of honeysuckles and swimming pool chlorine.

The days are longer and it just seems like the nights are more fun! ;) We are more likely to venture out for happy hour or hang with friends at a barbeque. We are more apt to travel, plan road-trips or an outing. Summer means more freedom and fewer restrictions because the weather is working with us, not against us.

But above all of this, my favorite aspect of summer, what I think takes-the-cake, is for those of us who are fortunate enough to live near a coast, Summer is time to head “to the beach” or “down the shore.”

Weekends are filled with miles of boardwalks, hours on the beach, boat or by a pool. Food cooked on the grill outside and happy hour starting just after noon. It’s a time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your winter labor. Ahhh, sweet summertime …I am a summer girl through and through so for me, Memorial Day has been a long time coming!

But margaritas, barbeques, bikini’s, beach trips and pool parties were never part of the origins of Memorial Day. The whole point of this Holiday was to be a day of remembrance, a day to honor those men and women who were, and are, part of the Armed Forces. A special occasion to … you know, memorialize—hence the name. But, somehow these “summerisms,” (if you will) have managed to dominate the weekend. In the mix of the sunny haze we forgot the historical point.

Now don’t stop reading because you think the rest of this blog is going to be a history lesson on the origins of Memorial Day …that is not at all where this is going.
  1. I am not a history teacher.
  2. This is a blog, not a research paper. If you want to know the origins of Memorial Day go to Wikipedia like everyone else.
Anyhow …my point is that we are SUPPOSED to be memorializing people and events that have contributed to our lives. I think it’s a wonderful thing and that should not be lost in the mix. Making a day to remember is one of the best ways to remind an entire nation; that without these people’s contributions, we may not have the freedom to embark on our “summerisms.”

However, what about all the days in-between that came before and after this event. The days between the start of that war and the end of it? Time in-between the turmoil. Time that is not marked by a day of remembrance or any great achievement; where no great problem was solved or solution discovered. A day where nothing terrible and nothing extravagant happened. A day that was just…dare I say …Normal?

What about those regular Joe-Schmo days. The uneventful, filler days, ones that are represented by the words “2 Weeks Later” in movies or books, when the writers want to just skip the mundane and get right to the heart of the story.

The secret is this … in-between these big events—the wars, the holidays, the happy graduations, the promotions, the demotions, the births and deaths; lays the real heart of the story. The “regular” days, where the daily events seem smaller in scale, but, as we learn over time, actually have a greater worth.

I say all of this on Memorial Day because this date has a special significance for my entire family. Memorial Day is a tough time of year for us, because last year, over the holiday weekend, my cousin was in a motorcycle accident. He died at the scene of the crash. In an instant our “summerisms” dissipated and reality set in.

In an instant my cousin was snatched away. The same amount of time it takes to snap a picture or snap your fingers. That fast … It can all change.

Last year, for us, it did.

My cousin Michael loved his Harley, and on his “holiday,” his day off, he took his beloved bike for a ride. I remember the weather that day. I remember that it was sunny and warm. My skin was hot under the sun, turning pink and tan from the heat of the rays. The sky was blue and the clouds looked like cotton candy pillows floating thru the sky. The weather was perfect.

My immediate family and I spent the day at our beach house. We were having a crab party that night so we all came back from the pool, beach and boat early to cook our holiday feast of shrimp and crabs. It was a happy day, one of those days where, if you were watching a movie, you would never believe that this was the setting for something terrible to happen.

We were sitting down for dinner when out house phone rang. One ring, one sound and everything changed. It was my Uncle and he was calling to tell us that Michael was in an accident.

I think about that day now and I imagine Michael on his bike. I think about how he must have felt with the breeze on his face, the wind setting off the heat, just enough so that the temperate felt perfect.

I imagine that when he got on his bike he was able to breath a sigh of relief. All of his problems were left behind him and riding cleared his head. Michael loved to ride and I hoped that day he had taken a deep breath and let the air fill his lungs. I know he felt at home, peaceful and happy on his motorcycle. I hoped that he was completely content.

I imagine that when the accident happened he didn’t feel anything aside from the sun warm on his face and the breeze cool behind his neck. I don’t believe that he suffered, because there is no way that Michael could have ever suffered while riding his bike. The two just didn’t go together … so I don’t believe that he felt anything besides the sheer joy he got from taking his bike for a ride on a gorgeous day.

I believe that because in an instant he was here and now he’s not. While my immediate family and myself were cleaning crabs and setting the table for dinner, Michael was gone.

A year later when I think about him, I don’t remember him in the context of the day he died. I don’t think about the accident. I don’t think about him at his graduation or at a big holiday event. Instead, I think of him just on a regular day … my big teddy bear cousin who loved to cook and ride his Harley.

That’s the irony. We put so much emphasis on the “events,” the holidays, but in the end, when the dust settles, it’s the regular days that we hold close to our hearts. They are where the true greatness lies. The “regular” days are what we look back on in retrospect and hold close to our heart.


The regular-stuff becomes what we truly cherish. We forget about the big events or big gestures, instead, we remember sitting around a kitchen table laughing with someone we loved on a random Tuesday in May. We remember the sound of their voice, the smell in the kitchen, how we felt and how much we loved them. That’s the stuff that sticks.

So on this Memorial Day, don’t stress about the big stuff, the plans, the events, or fulfilling your “summerisms”. Instead, hold tight to the small stuff and remember … what we think is mundane now, actually becomes the heart of our stories.

Cherish the moment…


"Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things." -Unknown

“Ride on Michael … Ride on.”