Their tattoos were prevalent, and some had chains. Long pony tails covered their leather jackets and some even had a rubber band around their beard. You know the type. You’ve seen them. Their motorcycles were parked out front. There were too many to count, but I had to go in anyways. They were standing along the entrance. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to walk past them, but I had an agenda.
So did they.
A few months later I reached out to the Patriot Guard through their Facebook page. I shared my background, my intent, and also that I don’t ride a motorcycle. I requested permission to pay homage to those who unselfishly protected our freedoms. I truly believe we live, love and laugh, without worry, because they wanted it that way. An instantaneous response came from a sweet lady named Sue. Her words were simple: Please come.
I arrived at the National Cemetery at the last-minute and waited near the side of the Visitor Center. As promised, I stayed out-of-the-way. The family of the deceased was visibly moved by the respect and comfort surrounding them, and I shared their tears. I recognized Sue from her photo. I introduced myself and was swallowed up with a mom hug. Today wasn’t about me, and yet, I wondered if the underlying agenda here was…comfort. I learned that they call her Wheels, and she doesn’t ride motorcycles either. Once again her words were simple.
Thank you for coming.
I followed the caravan to the shelter for Military Honors. I figured I would nonchalantly pay my respects behind a nearby Palo Verde tree. From there I could watch the family ready themselves and watch the Honor Guard prepare for TAPS. The PGR support vehicle handed out flags, water and Oreos, and someone brought a flag to me too. He forgot the Oreos. Wink. The guy they call Grizz wandered over and I was certain he might have been nominated to chase me away, not really as his smile is as large as his stature. He handed me a pin that said, Mission Accomplished and told me there is one rule. You must hold the flag straight. OK. I got this. I figured this was a great time to stop chewing my gum too.
And this time, I understood.
Family members of the deceased walked the flag line thanking the PGR for their presence. Not one person says you’re welcome. Instead, one by one they say: It is an honor for us to be here. When it was my turn. I cried. I remember thinking, first, what strength a family member must have to walk a line of total strangers during this arduous day. And also to recognize that this new kinship I have walked into has very little to do with motorcycles, and everything to do with being a part of something bigger. It is about putting others before themselves. It is about respect for the fallen, and for our grieving families. It is about doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. And to them…
Nothing takes precedence over this.
I didn’t need to learn about their cause. I know the mission states, to stand for those who stood for us, but I do admit was a bit behind in their jargon. Take notes.
- A bike is not a bicycle.
- A run is not a 5K jog through a park.
- And a cage? That would be my Jeep, or anything else with 4 wheels.
So…when I tell you I belong to the Patriot Guard Riders of Arizona, know those eyebrows you raise at me are a compliment. No, I still won’t ride a motorcycle, and I will never have a tattoo, but what we share is an understanding. Together, we know, there is no greater gift then the gift of time.
Forever indebted. Freedom isn’t free.
The Daily Post: Homage