Memorial Day is not Veteran’s Day. Confusing the two is like eulogizing Grandpa when he’s going in for a dental cleaning. Right audience, wrong occasion.

For the most part, holidays are joyful. (Enter tacky reindeer theme sweater here.) Living near DC is especially fun during major holidays like Veteran’s Day, Forth of July, and when Congress is in recess. I took my tiny tot to the parade to cheer for the men and women marching in the humidity, sweating shoulder to shoulder with thousands of strangers eating mysterious meat on a stick from the rows of food trucks nearby.

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But first I went for a run. It was a 5k in Baltimore. I came in third in my age group. Not bad for having to wake up at 5am and drive 75 minutes in the humidity. (I hate being hot.)

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I always run for my dad – for Parkinson’s – for people struggling so in the 26, 27, 28 minutes it takes me to run a 5k, I’m carrying their burden. This run was my 22 push up challenge. I get it. A bucket of ice water, 22 push ups for 22 days, posting a cancer awareness post on social media. They’re all ways that we can feel like we’re doing something. And it is something. I’m not sure people covered in ice water saved a life from ALS but I’m sure it made them feel – however briefly – lifted up. I don’t think a veteran will seek help with PTSD because they saw their neighbor in his yard doing 22 push ups. But perhaps it reminds us to look out for one another, to put others before ourselves, to sacrifice a little bit of our time and talents for our community.

Nate Self, USMA ’98 wrote a book called “Two Wars: One Hero’s Fight on Two Fronts – Abroad and Within”. (grab a copy on Amazon). The book is an interesting first hand account of a battle in the Afghan mountains and Nate’s internal struggle back home with PTSD. I have never been to war. I have struggled with depression from time to time like the typical teenage angst, going through a divorce, my father’s disease. We can all relate to anxiety, depression, fear.

On the 9th of July 1990 one of my all time favorite people died. West Point class of 1988, the biggest person at the Camp Thanksgiving kids table, my quiet champion. My daughter is learning to play the piano on the same baby grand he taught me. I have boxes of music – some he has played, some he wrote – that I can’t bring myself to open.

On the 4th of July he left a message on our answering machine. He said, “I can’t reconcile the person I am with the person I want to be.” A few days later he took his life. I was 12 years old.

I don’t think running a road race or doing push ups or dunking myself in cold water would have saved him. He was a thousand miles away in Texas and we were all busy doing our things – unaware of the extent that he was suffering.

16 years later I still think about him every time I play our baby grand. There have been other people I’ve lost – other friends that have died in the decade of war our nation has endured.  Their loss is a reminder to be vigilant and intentional in our relationships with one another. In this age of social media and video chat, we don’t have any excuses not to stay connected. Friends, colleagues and classmates have the ability to know what is going on in each others’ lives and have the resources to meet needs in real-time.

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So do the push ups. Run the road race. Come alongside someone. Lace up your sneakers and run with me, virtually, even if we’re thousands of miles apart. And if you’re struggling, reach out. Have hope. God isn’t through with me and He isn’t through with you yet. Run to Win.

Appropriately, for our John,  John 15: 12-13 (from The Message)

“This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends”

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My parents are in town for a week. Parkinson’s makes it difficult for my father to travel and he doesn’t do well out of his routine but I needed them and they came.

Life Lesson #1: Ask for what you need. Don’t expect to get what you want but ask for what you need.

I wanted to do something special for them while they’re here so I asked them if there is anyone in particular they would like to see in the DC area. They gave me a few names of people – intimate friends – people who feel like home.  Some of them joined us for a few hours last night.

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Life Lesson #2: “Home” is not places but people. The comfort of your childhood living room can be revisited in the embrace of an old friend.

We assembled in the lounge of a hotel nearby. The first to arrive was a wrestler from the class of 1991. A product of my father’s high school in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, though over 30 years a part. President of FCA at West Point, a constant presence in our home. Two more couples came. First, leaders in their life and in their faith. He a strong, calm presence. She an effervescent joy that heals the soul.

The second family are generational friends – parents, children, grandchildren… Our families bound together by faith, hope, service and sacrifice. For years, their Thayer Road home was our family base when we’d return to the Academy for visits. They feel like home.

Life Lesson #3: Relationships rooted in Faith are like a house built on a rock.

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

The last guest was a grad from the early 1980’s that my father had craved a reunion with for over 20 years. He was a surprise guest – a gift I could give thanks to my stalking abilities and social media presence. 20 years but as a day….

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Life Lesson #4: Stalking works. (oh, wait. Don’t do that, kids.)

Life Lesson #4.5: Reach out.

Don’t be afraid of rejection. If it happens, you’ll use the spiritual muscle you’ve been honing to deal with it.

A recent study said the only regret people have is NOT taking a chance. What are you waiting for? What are you afraid of? You’ve been through worse. Don’t let fear paralyze you. Life is too short. You can handle whatever comes. Reach out. Be brave. Be Bold. Love hard.

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We had other reunions. A former cadet from the class of 1988 – one of my first “big brothers” that I haven’t seen in 20 years stopped in while passing through town.

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And a few weeks ago we reunited with a super special couple (whose son was one of my favorite guys growing up) – people that are more than family. (is there such a thing?) Sometimes family is the what we’re born into. Sometimes family is what we put together ourselves. Love them both.

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Life Lesson #5: Love more. Love harder.

Like an athlete playing his last game of the last season, lay it all on the field. Like the last quarter mile of a race, sprint to the finish. Run to win.

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I have a Parlor Trick.

“I can name 5 of your classmates.”

Anytime I come upon a USMA grad, I start off with this game. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it freaks people out.  One time it got me a Yankee double header but that’s another story.

Having spent my first 18.5 years at West Point means I know a lot of people. And they know a lot of people. Between all of us we are close enough to reach out and touch Kevin Bacon.

As a teenager, being the Chaplains daughter was a protection (though I didn’t think that at the time.) Getting hit on in the area by a particularly attractive cadet was a thrill until his roommate grabbed his arm and said, “Dude get a clue that’s Chaplain Camps daughter.” sigh. Recently a grad contacted me on social media and said,

“I remember people mentioning the Chaplain had a teenage daughter. I also remember thinking, I like trouble. But that’s a LOT of trouble right there…..”

About 5 years ago, my friend and I hopped in a cab outside the Philadelphia Marriott headed downtown for dinner. A mid 40’s well dressed man wanted that cab to catch his plane. Being kind (but not that kind) we shared our ride. Since i’m Chatty Kathy and possibly armed with a little wine I said, “nice ring. i bet i can name 5 of your classmates.” Although he exhibited real fear and legitimately tried to jump out of the moving vehicle, I eventually assured him I’m not clairvoyant merely that I knew who he was. Former football player, (a really good running back from the 90s) and former guest at our Sunday brunch table. He eventually remembered me as an awkward 12 year old.

He blew off his flight and took us out on the town.

I named 5 of his classmates.

God bless the Long Gray Line.

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Jim Backlin ’66 and Chad Llewellyn ’14 taken a few months ago.