The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for May, 2019

Rolling Thunder, 2019

I would have liked to have shared video of the Rolling Thunder ride from yesterday, but phone battery didn‘t hold up for it.

But maybe that‘s ok, because I now have to tell you what it was like through the filter of my perception, which I don‘t have a lens for on my camera yet.

One thing stands out head and shoulders above the rest.  People – real people – are still very excited to be American.  In response to their excitement, I waved.  I high-fived.  I first-bumped.  I saluted.  I even photobombed a group of Asians trying to get a picture, one guy in front of them with taking a picture over his head with all of them facing so the riders would be behind them.  I snuck (I don‘t believe I‘ve ever snuck on a Harley before, especially with this one, but well… opportunity struck) up behind them and stopped just as he snapped the group photo.  We all laughed, there was hugging, handshaking – you‘d have thought I was the returning prodigal son. it was a highlight of the 20-minute ride. 

There were People of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds.  It is peculiar to sit in a parking lot full of bikers, who largely fit a visual stereotype, and then ride through a crowd of people who normally treat that stereotype with a certain protective distance.  Those people and we become, for a few moments, One.

The way I interpret my chosen Canonical spiritual writings, that brings God into our midst.  Our language and cultural differences may use different names for God, but the God I believe in knows all our languages just fine.

The ride‘s route takes us through the heart of the DC Monuments, a place from where many of the iconic images can be seen up close and personal.  Of particular interest to me always is the Lincoln and Washington memorials.  And there are large spaces where, in any other city, would be a solid mass of buildings with businesses.  But this space, in the nation‘s Capitol, is reserved for The People.  People that are maybe not involved with Politics, but are certainly very, very involved with being American.

I say this because Americans do their political thing every four years.  By design, we decide on someone to represent us in that messy forum.  We do it because we have lives to live.  We have crops to plant, houses to build, children to raise, And once in a while, that living we do must involve standing for a moment, and drinking in the courage it has taken over the history of our country to win and defend the one thing we stand for – Freedom.

It is no perfect Freedom we enjoy.  At every turn there is someone trying to bend us to their will and benefit.  Businesses do it.  Ideological groups do it.  Neighbors do it.  Foreign enemies do it.  From every angle, one man seeks to subjugate others.  

Freedom does not rest in some sacred temple, impervious to the elements in its vault.  It is a small thin egg, filled from within with life, and protected from the outside by the fragile shell of our written Constitution, incubated by nurturers and defended fiercely by the blood, sweat, and tears of its parents.

And who are it‘s parents?

It is us.  We have not inherited a relic.  Each generation must give birth to its own  Freedom, must nurture, defend, and teach the next how to live.  Or it dies.

Idols are quickly forgotten as a people assume the idols can take care of themselves.  We pray in vain for idols to protect us, believing them to possess supernatural powers.

Freedom is not – cannot be – an idol.  It is a living, perpetually reborn infant.  And it must be treated that way.

Today we‘ll celebrate one of the greatest sacrifices made since the Revolution.  But we don‘t do it to worship them.  We call it Memorial Day because remembering is critical to our future.  We will have to defend it again, and that defense is not some fantasy of future glory.  It is today.  Freedom cannot protect itself.  It cannot raise itself.  

And if we cannot love it enough to get excited about it, we do not deserve to be its parents.  So today, in remembrance of those who sacrificed their life for freedom, we celebrate this infant‘s life in somber wonderment.  We boggle at the dedication of the men and women who are gone from us, and honor the scarred and broken survivors of that debacle.  And we do it in the one way we can that brings us together.  Those who know and cherish freedom come to be filled with a song. And they take that song home in their hearts, filling this country with the overpowering sound of Rolling Thunder.  

Fathers & Sons

Father and son

Riding partners for life.

As a kid, my first motorbike experiences were on the back of my dad‘s bike as we toodled around on a Saturday afternoon on the back roads of Southern California.  Those times became so engrained in my memory that it is almost impossible to separate what is purely my own experience now, and what I perceive through the filters of those memories.  I react to something, and sometimes it is my dad‘s reflex that responds.  I choose a wider approach to conditions remembering an accident of his.  I check things because I saw him check them decades ago, and when on the roadside I need it, I smile at the memory.

Whether I am riding with him – and we‘ve had some pretty epic road trips in the last several years – or whether my bike is the only one on the road, he‘s always there somewhere.

And so it is on this Memorial Day weekend.  We take some time to recognize who went before us, and what they did.  In my case with submarines in my blood, it was the courage of the remnants of the Pacific Fleet, nearly decimated by the Pearl Harbor attack.  The US Power in the Pacific was reduced almost entirely to Submarines.  Slower than warships, increasingly vulnerable to Japanese hunting tactics, beset with technical weapons problems, they hurled themselves into the breach anyway, and used what they had to give what they could.

And, against the odds, it was enough to hold off the enemy until the rest could recover, to win key victories whose impact turned the course of the war.  It was a nightmarish existence that I only experienced a fraction of.

But the evidence of their courage paced like ghosts up and down the passageways of every boat I served on.  It looked out through the eyes of old men.  It hung over equipment with design features that told the tale of engineering necessity.  Every backup valve had a history of another valve‘s failure.  Every weapon had safety features born from disaster.  From the cutting edge technology to the design of handrails and ladder treads, hatch latches, piping layout, all of it was designed from the experiences of battle-hardened men who knew – not just imagined but KNEW – what happened when things failed.  And when things worked.

The Submarine qualification process encompassed those same nightmares.  New Crew members rode with men who‘d met Davy Jones, and defied him in his own element.  They were taught what those men had to learn the hard way.

And sometimes, that knowledge was scoffed at.  Sometimes the lessons lost meaning in the absence of their mentors.  But always, the Sea was there to remind the Forgetful of her treacherous nature.

This Memorial Day, have yourself a celebration of our freedom.  Feast on burgers and dogs hot off the grill, and revel in what you can.  Have a beer.

But at some point in the festivities, turn aside from the company you have, and in a moment of solitude, remember.

Remember hard.

Sort out who YOU are, and how you got here.  Find the good, and trace it‘s source to your fathers.  Follow the memory‘s trail to the hard-won Sacrifice by which you could be who you are with less suffering.  On this one day, KNOW which Sacrifice has been yours, and which is borrowed from your Fathers.

It is only by this that we become something greater:  to remember what came before us.