Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Honoring Strangers

It was the fire trucks that got me.

A week ago, my cousin passed away. He was 87 and lived a good, long life. What made him unique in our family was his profession. The son of a sheriff here in Texas, my cousin worked for the Texas Department of Public Safety before becoming a Texas Ranger for two decades. And boy did he love being a Ranger.

His service was this past Saturday. As you could imagine, the folks who turned out for the service consisted of many current and former Rangers and DPS veterans. The casket even had an honor guard, complete with the changing of the guard. It was a somber ceremony punctuated with humorous moments, including one old timer who quipped that “today would be a good day for a jail break.”

The ceremony was nice, but it was the funeral procession that really got me. My first clue this was something special was the highway patrol officer who blocked traffic right as we left the funeral home. He stood there, in the early summer heat, in front of his car, and saluted until the last car in the procession had gone. From there, we drove about half an hour to the cemetery. What I saw reminded me of some good old-fashioned values that I hadn’t seen in a long time.

All along the route, oncoming cars didn’t merely slow down as the procession passed, they stopped. I live in Houston and I love living in a big city. Motorcycle police make a path for funeral processions here and cars slow, but they don’t always stop. I do because my parents taught me to show respect to strangers, and I’m instilling that trait in my son who will be driving soon. But things are different in small town central Texas. Every car stopped and pulled over. They didn’t know who the procession was for, but it was a funeral procession, so they stopped. That was awesome to witness.

By the time we reached the little town where my cousin would be laid to rest, I had become accustomed to the sight of these Texans paying their respects by stopping for a few minutes of their day. But when we reached the main intersection of that small town, we saw something even more powerful. The local lawmen and firemen had blocked the intersection with all the local fire trucks. It was our last right turn before we took the smaller roads to get to the cemetery. This is what we saw.

Man, that was a great sight. I was driving, but my eyes welled with tears. 

The graveside ceremony was somber, filled with quiet dignity and ceremony—complete with a trumpeter playing taps and the honor guard meticulously removing the Texas flag from the casket—but it will be the fire engines that stay with me. It reminded me that dignity and honor, even for strangers, is something worth taking the time to do. 

I remembered that yesterday as I walked outside around my office building on a break. When I reached the corner, I heard the distinctive “whoop whoop” of police motorcycle sirens. It was a funeral procession. Remembering what I had seen over the weekend, I stopped walking and turned off my music until the procession had passed. 

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