Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lindbergh's Grave and Memorial Day

Earlier this week, I experienced a small epiphany of sorts at 37,000 feet over the Midwest. 

I was returning home from a 4 day business trip to Washington DC.  Before I departed, I downloaded several pages of one of my favorite blogs, Flight Level 390, to read on the plane.  It seemed fitting to read about the adventures and musings of an airline pilot while flying home myself.  I simply love the periodic reflections of Captain Dave, and heartily recommend them.

One of Captain Dave's posts was a reflection and a poem on Charles Lindbergh.  This recent May 20th was the 85th anniversary of Lindbergh's courageous and record breaking transatlantic flight, a flight that forever changed the world.  And here I was, with 120 or so other souls, 7-plus miles in the air over an unmarked Midwestern state, traveling at 0.83 times the speed of sound, in a metal tube with wings.  How far we have come since that single man dared the odds and transformed history.

And tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day we set aside for the first trip of the spring to the beach, or barbeque's, or pool parties.  But the meaning of Memorial Day is so much more. 
Lindbergh's grave near Hana, Maui.

I remember about 35 years ago my parents and I made the drive to Hana, Maui; a picturesque and winding road that ends at the small clifftop Hawaiian village of Hana, a place directly out of Heaven on Earth.  My Dad kept talking about Lindbergh owning a small home there, and having recently been buried someplace nearby.  My Dad thought Charles Lindbergh was an amazing American icon.  He was right.  At the end of his life, Lindbergh chose to be flown from a hospital in New York, where he was being treated for lymphoma, back to Hana and the place he loved so much.   His grave is simple, and not marked on maps.  Those who wish to honor him find the grave site on their own.  

And there I was reading this poem, speeding through the sky with ease, tears in my eyes, reflecting upon many things; the amazing advance of technology, the courage of a man to go it alone, the character of this generation that preceded ours that took risks like Lindbergh, and the service of my own Dad to his country as a B17 pilot in World War II.  Many things in this poem struck me as deeply meaningful, I share it with you, in the hopes it might have meaning for you as well.

Lindbergh's Grave

That long green swell that sears my eyes
As I lie in this bed of black stone,
Is it the Irish coast rising in the dawn
Beyond the brushed silver of my blind cowling
Where, throughout the night,
I trusted Not in some desert God's directions,
But in the calibrated compasses of man?

That rushing sound,
is it the hordes at Orly,
Swarming past the barriers and lights
To scavenge my Spirit,
and lift me up
Into the air that only heroes breath?
Or is it the age-old sigh of sea on stones,
Known to those who pace the shingle
And the swirled black sands that seep
Up from the sea's loom to wrap
Impossible islands in a shawl of waves?

That painting daubed on the chapel's window-
Not the roselined mandala at Chartres
Where flame in glass misprisoned sings-
But a cruder Savior, bearded, browned and popular,
An icon obtainable to plain sight,
a trim God Flat upon the glass in dull gesso limned,
And, when light moves behind it, looking down....
Is this the sign in which, at last, we conquer?

Conquer? I'd laugh the laugh of stones
Had I but eyes to see and lips to breathe.
No, I am content here where man and apes
Together waltzing lie, having done at last
With all horizons, having done at last with sky.

If you would see me now pass by
The small green church where ancient
Banyans looming shade and guard
The tower and the bell which you
May toll for me, or you, or all those
Not yet delivered to the stars and sea.

And then, retreating, mark the trees
Whose tendrilled branches hold but air,
And shadow both the church and stones
Beneath which wait both apes and men,
Who, foolish with their hunger for the air,
Swung branch to branch up all the years
Until, letting go at last, they learned
Through my night's leap, at last, to rise.

Sea, stone, tree, ape and Savior.
These now my long companions are.
Better here, I think, in this dank green
Cartoon of Paradise, this slight-of-hand Eden;
Better here beneath the pumice stones
Where strangers drop a wreathe from time to time;

Better in here deep than out there wide --
Hovering over the pillaring waves alone,
Suspended between the old world and the new,
Trusting in man's compass to guide me home;
Descending down the sharp cold blade of dawn.
Better, much better, in here at last to wait
In here where the shawl of the waves below
Enfolds that fire they could never snare.

Gerard Vanderleun
American Digest

Palapalo Ho'omau Church Cemetery, Kipahulu, Southeast Maui

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