May 26, 2020

After witnessing Memorial Day parades as a young child, it was my turn to participate in them when I entered High School. The Mechanicsburg Wildcats Marching Band always took part in the parade from the community park to the cemetery, and as one of the trumpet players, I was required to be present. A few blocks before the cemetery we would stop playing music, and the snare drums set the cadence for the rest of the journey. And then, as we entered the cemetery proper, they would change the reverberation on their drums so that they sounded muted. The somber sound was a reminder that we were entering a special place, a place not for upbeat marches like Stars and Stripes, but a prelude to something much deeper, the 24 notes of Taps, originally the military signal to extinguish the lights and now the call sounded for at military funerals. Taps always gave me goose bumps.

And as one of the lifeguards at the Municipal pool, the sounding of Taps also meant that it was time for me to hustle back to the park so that I could change out of my band uniform and into the swimsuit. That, too, gave me goose bumps, for another reason. Memorial Day might be opening day for swimming pools, and the unofficial start of summer, but the weather was never hot enough to warm water in the pool. Inevitably, crazy, daring younger children would line up just waiting for the guard’s whistle to indicate that the pool was open. 

There were two approaches to getting into the water. There were the jumpers, and the toe-touchers. The toe-touchers, on those first chilly days that the pool was open, after putting one big toe into the frigid water usually didn’t get all the way in, choosing instead to play around the pool’s edge. The jumpers would leap in and then let out screams as their heads came up. A few of them would egg on their friends, “the water’s great, come on in.”  All of them would splash each other frenetically, getting me wet, only to climb out minutes later, their skinny little bodies shivering and their teeth chattering behind blue-tinged lips. Which one are you?

When it comes to getting into the water, my preferred technique is to jump on in, making sure I go all the way under. I think it’s easier to get over the shock of the cold all at once.  The toe technique often results in me heading back to my towel to warm up in the sun. I’ve learned this over decades of summers, working and playing near the water. 

I’ve also learned that it is never a good idea to jump into the water if you can’t see the bottom or don’t know how deep it is, or if there are hazards to avoid. Or in the case of Hawaii, if there were shark sightings, Portuguese Man-of-War advisories, or rip currents, or dangerously high wave action. 

From news reports and photographs of Memorial Day activities, it appears that lots of folks jumped right in. (See the photo from Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana) It is easy to understand. The beaches looked lovely, the weather was perfect, from the look of nature all is well with the world, and those advisories to be safe are easy to miss over the crowds. 

A large crowd of people at a beach

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My prayer for all of us is taken from a hymn written by Harry Emmerson Fosdick in 1930. “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour.” He wrote these words in the midst of the Great Depression as a prayer for the church. It is still fitting today. ~ Anne

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