Watch Out For Life-Gifts

Yesterday I packed a picnic basket and took a little road trip to visit a friend.  I had booked a vacation day to have a bit of fun that involved picking up said friend from her office at 11:30 a.m. and spiriting her away to the local park for a belated fiftieth birthday celebration.  We scored the last remaining picnic table at the park and settled in for a wee bite of lunch. The truth is the visit wasn't about eating it was about catching up on several months of life in two hours in a way that only good friends can - finishing each other's thoughts and sentences, feeling the disappointment behind the story, and celebrating life-gifts.

When I left the house in the morning for my drive across the countryside I was excited about the life-gifts of the day.  I was travelling rural Alberta on a warm sunny day, which I love.  There was a trusted friend waiting for me at the other end.  We were going to have a picnic in the park; something I haven't done for years.  We were going to make each other's ears curl with the flurry of words that would flow back and forth.  Our brain cells and hearts were going to be totally awake and attune to the other's story.  Every one of those life-gifts were part of our lunch with the unlit numeric candles leaning against the picnic basket in full view, reminding us of the speed of life and the preciousness of time.

With the same speed that we had unfurled the tablecloth and decorated the picnic space, we packed it all up.  We had grabbed the life-gift of a visit and squeezed out every possible bit, it was time to travel home.  My travels took me through several small towns, some with only one intersection!  I was on the home stretch heading north into Devon when I noticed a few people with Canadian flags standing along the side of the highway.  Then there were more, some in lawn chairs, some with dogs, and even little people in strollers.  The fire trucks were all washed and lining the highway with red lights flashing. The RCMP were out in full gear.  Veterans were sitting in chairs holding ten or twelve foot flagpoles.  Both the veterans and the flags were waving merrily at all the passing highway traffic.

I couldn't resist, I had to pull into town and join the party along the highway that was preparing to welcome the Wounded Warriors.  I parked in the Superstore parking lot and scrambled up the berm.  My feet had barely been planted on the asphalt when a stranger handed me a Canadian flag.  The lovely lady had a handful and was freely dispensing them to anyone who showed up without.  Several older ladies to my right were enthusiastically signaling every passing trucker to honk their air-horns.  Whenever the truckers complied a huge cheer rose from the growing crowd.  Tourists passing through lowered their windows to smile and wave bemusedly at the Devon contingent.  Then the town councilor announced that the buses carrying the veterans were at the race track and the excitement amped up again.  Only a few more minutes until the cavalcade would arrive.

Finally the cavalcade came into view led by an RCMP escort.  As the buses filled with wounded veterans and their spouses passed by a cheer arose from the crowd.  The flags waved even harder and the elderly veterans in their chairs hollered, "Thank You."  The RCMP stood at full salute.  Faces lined the inside of the bus windows and the riders waved back.  One bus driver drove with one hand and saluted with the other, his pride so evident in his ramrod straight posture and the sharpness of his salute.  I have a sneaky feeling that every business in Devon might have closed the doors very briefly yesterday afternoon to allow their employees ten minutes to stand on the highway and honor soldiers who had been wounded while carrying out their duties.

The whole experience was just another life-gift that popped out of nowhere yesterday afternoon.  I hadn't planned to be in Devon at that time.  I had heard about the Wounded Warriors Weekend in the news but wasn't aware of the timing of their arrival at YEG.  Standing along the edge of the highway waving a flag was not an activity I woke up anticipating.  Being moved by the experience and enjoying the camaraderie of the community of Devon were two extra life-gifts topping off an already grand day.