What the Chaplain Said

June 25, 2015

ANCWe gather this warm summer’s morning upon this hill to lay to rest the remains of a beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, brother-in-law, uncle, Highlander, dear neighbor and faithful friend, United States Coast Guard Captain  Paul Reed Peak, Jr.

His life began in Denver, surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains.  Many years passed before young Paul saw an ocean, but following his 1944 graduation from the United States Coast Guard Academy, he spent hundreds, yes, thousands of hours aboard vessels out on our planet’s beautiful and unpredictable oceans.

For 30 years, he served his c0untry with courage, leadership, keep intellect, distinction, wisdom, integrity and faithfulness — three remarkable decades.  He loved our country and her many faces, 50 states, and diverse personalities.

An honorable man, he was proud of his service. He loved the Coast Guard.

As we place his remains into the cradle of our planet Mother, we are reminded that we are made of stardust, the elements of the stars and planets that he studied and admire during his many nights at sea.  And with this in mind, we recall a familiar phrase, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

We are indebted to Captain Peak and his beloved wife, Jane, who, together, served through various Coast Guard posts and shared more than 70 years of marriage.  Thank you,.  Thank you for your service, your dedication, your example.

As this part of today’s burial service concludes, I’d like to share a thought-provoking passage, “Crossing the Bar” — one of Captain Peak’s favorites — that was written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

“Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar, when I put out to sea.

But such a tide as moving seems asleep, too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep, turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell, and after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell, when I embark.

For though from out our bourne of time and place the flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face, when I have crossed the bar.”


Full Honors

June 24, 2015

“I want to walk,” my mother said.

It was 90 degrees in Northern Virginia, and we were standing in the  hot sun.

“It’s a half-mile,” I warned. My mother will turn 95 in October.

“I want to walk,” she repeated.

I was not about to argue.  And so we set off, my mother in the center, with a daughter on each arm and our husbands on the outside.  And me kicking myself that I didn’t think to remind Mom to wear a hat.

We were following Dad’s caisson at Arlington National Cemetery.  The caisson, horses, honor guard, color guard, band, chaplain set off at a brisk pace; we followed slightly slower.  Even though the ancient tradition of following the casket has mostly disappeared in our automobile society, it remains integral to a military graveside service, and now I understand why.

Our half-mile through Arlington’s hallowed hills took us through the last century and a half of American history.  The site itself, war booty seized during the Civil War.  The monuments surrounded us.  Even though I could only glance, I saw graves of a man who died in Puerto Rico during the Spanish American war, others who died in Europe, graves of veterans  of all wars.  Surnames bespoke our immigrant past; gravestone styles bespoke antiquity. And still we walked on. My favorite sections are those in which the grave markers are all uniform, regular, row upon row.  And the history doesn’t stop; we also passed tourists checking out Arlington and America’s past, and they stood in curious silence as we walked past.

Dad had asked to be interred on “Coast Guard Hill,” so named for the monument to the  Coast Guard Cutter Tampa, lost with all hands during WWI.  Because of the size of the overall Coast Guard at that time, the loss of the Tampa made the Coast Guard the US armed service that lost the most men per capita during WWI.  Bet you didn’t know that.  As monuments go, the Tampa memorial doesn’t do much for me — but it’s a rallying point and place where most Coast Guard retireds ask to be interred.  One of the vagaries of being buried at Arlington, however, is that the family can ask but has no decision-making power over where in the cemetery the grave shall be.  And none of us knew Arlington well enough to know the direction in which we were walking.  So it was with excitement that we saw the Tampa memorial in the trees just beyond realized the caisson and entourage, and realized that Dad had gotten his wish viz. locale. In fact, his grave turned out to be on a hillside between two stately trees, with about as million-dollar a view as is possible — from his grave one has a bird’s eye view of the Pentagon, the Air Force memorial, the distant planes taking off from Reagan National — and the Coast Guard Tampa memorial in the foreground.

Mom sank into her seat; I was at her side, holding her hand.  The military has had hundreds of years to hone this ceremony, and it is most impressive.  I hadn’t been to a service with ashes/urn rather than a body/casket, and wasn’t sure how that would change the program, and the answer is:  Not much. Our chaplain spoke words that were Dad all through. The color guard whipped the flag and folded it with absolute precision. The firing squad followed — I was concerned about four-year-old Lily, but her mother held her tight — the bugler played Taps, Mom was presented with the flag as a tribute to Dad’s 33 years of service, and then it was over.

Afterward, we had a luncheon for all comers at the Women’s Memorial.  I spoke with John, a friend of my sister’s family for years and years.  He mentioned that both his parents are buried at Arlington but that he doesn’t visit the grave because he doesn’t believe that they are there.  My beliefs are similar — I don’t think it’s about the corporeal body, and also, I believe that it’s what we do on this earth that counts.  Be that as it may, the fact remains that I can think of no higher honor than to be buried at Arlington, and I am convinced there is no more beautiful spot in Arlington than the one where my Dad’s ashes are now interred.


Another Page of the Calendar

June 21, 2015

IMG_0027July 1 marks the beginning of the new  Rotary year, or perhaps I should say that June 30 marks the end of the old.

So about this time every year Districts have Changeover events.  Someone pointed out to me once that Changeovers are an occasion at which everyone is happy — the outgoing officers are (usually) pleased after 12 months to be finally looking in the rear view mirror, and the incoming officers are (usually) pleased to be finally “official.”

IMG_0030Most District Changeovers are pretty dressy occasions, and typically feature banquet venues rubber chicken dinners with all the trimmings.  That’s not always the case, however … and this year, incoming governor Sheila had the savvy to combine District hoopla with our youth leadership RYLA program.

The Changeover was held at Boy Scout Camp Hynes, home of RYLA, on the day before RYLA began, with all the RYLA leadership in place.  We spent the afternoon trying out new activities — my group did its best to fall off the low ropes course, but had a heck of a good time in the process.

IMG_0012Excitingly, the new course area has been officially named by the Boy Scouts of America to be RYLA Ridge.  Even better, a trail that leads through the area is named after Rotarian and RYLA executive director Jared Avery for all his hard work over the years.  Thanks comes in many forms, but to have a trail — a trail that helps youth learn leadership — named in one’s honor is high praise indeed.  Jared certainly deserves the distinction.

Then it was on to the induction ceremony itself, overseen by Mike McGovern, who always does a marvelously informal  meaningful time.  A thank-you gift to Lawrence, a moment for Sheila, and then to dinner.  Nothing rubber about it: This was salmon and chicken on the grill, augmented by potluck salads and appetizers and loads of desserts.

IMG_0005It was a great evening. Live music, great fellowship, good vibes, no bugs. And minimal cost.  Of course throwing a party for 150 people in a Boy Scout camp is more work than signing a contract to get the same done in a hotel — but the results were well worth the effort.  And more about what Rotary stands for.  At least, so say I.

Same Time Next Year

June 11, 2015

IMG_0005On Sunday we took a picture of the 15 of us here from District 7780, and on Monday as many of us as were available went out to dinner together. Several of us are new Convention goers; others are Convention insiders. It was fun to compare notes. On Friday night, the Zone had a dinner as well, and many of us showed up there. The food wasn’t worth the price, frankly, but what we were really paying for was the fellowship. It’s a fact that a large part of the fun of the Convention is running into Rotarians – both from one’s home turf and also from across the globe. We were able to talk to Rotarians we have worked with in Guatemala, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali – I looked in vain for the Filipinos but I am sure they were there somewhere – and also to hobnob with senior Rotary leaders. They, of course, are out in force, and always approachable. It always surprises me how many people I know – and how many know me – but of course my name is out there thanks to the Zone newsletter.

Anyway, it was like old home week – and that’s part of the purpose of the International Convention.
Frank and I had not planned to go to the Seoul convention next year. Frankly, both our pocketbooks – and the content – cry for an every-other-year experience. However, by Saturday I was realizing that the fundraising I am doing for the Rotary Peace Centers pretty much requires me to be in Seoul, and Frank graciously agreed. So on Monday we registered for next year’s Convention.

Rotary Peace Symposium

June 11, 2015

IMG_0023Tuesday night, enroute Newark.

I’ve gotten far, far away from this blog – which may say something about the Rotary Convention. Our new hotel was at the Convention site, so we didn’t have to block in much travel time, but we were still very busy. Thursday and Friday were pre-Convention meetings – we went back and forth between the International Institute (note to reader: When Rotary calls something an “Institute,” it means it’s supposed to be high level!) and the tri-annual Peace Symposium, which really brings together Rotary Peace Fellows and thinkers and the content is really terrific.

This Peace Symposium was no exception. Two speakers were highlighted: former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, who stood up to the Nixon White House and earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. It turns out that back in the ‘60s, Costa Rica abolished its army, which resulted in more funds being available for education and social infrastructure. So far, so good. But in the ‘80s, when civil war broke out in neighboring Nicaragua. Nixon wanted Costa Rica as an ally. Arias worked hard to maintain Costa Rica’s neutrality, and managed to convince his people that this was the right path, even though he and they knew that they would lose American foreign dollars as a result. It did, but today is a remarkable example of what a Central American country can be, with almost universal literacy, much higher standard of living in all measures, et cetera. Amazing what can happen when a country invests in its people rather than in war.

Arias used his Nobel Prize money to set up a foundation that, as he puts it, is fighting to end war. He argues at how much we could accomplish if we did not support an army and purchase war material. Frankly, his work puts him on a par with Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King – advocating nonviolence but on a national rather than personal scale. Remarkable.

IMG_0019He was followed at the Symposium by Steve Killilea, an Australian businessman who realized that we have no metrics to measure the peacefulness of nations. So he created one, which has grown in about a decade into a global standard to determine peace. His metrics include the percentage of its people that the country imprisons (US ranks poorly on that one) as well as graft, freedoms, et cetera, And then more recently, he realized that he was measuring peace by the absence of negative metrics, rather than by the attributes of a peaceful nation. “If you wanted to learn what makes a marriage successful, would you hang around the divorce courts?” he asks. So he has come up with a second index that measures quantifiable attributes of peace – literacy, women’s rights, and so on.

Both are remarkable men and persuasive speakers, and both were to speak again to much larger audiences in the regular Convention plenary sessions.

Back at Sea Level

June 5, 2015

It was one of those travel horror stories.

Wednesday we woke very early, and were packed and out of the hotel at 6:30.  We drove to the airport through the fog, which made reading signage, umm, challenging; so challenging that I didn’t even think about how the fog was affecting our inbound flight.

We turned in the car — we had driven over 1000 kilometers in our little 4 cylinder rental, all at high altitude and most on windy mountain roads.  We had crossed a desert (or two) and a jungle rain forest.

We soon found out that our inbound flight had been diverted to another airport.  “But no problem,” the agent said, “you have plenty of time for your transfer in Buenos Aires.”  That was the last English we heard in some hours.

I am here to tell you that Argentine air carriers are as bad with providing passengers with information as they are in the States. And it’s hard enough to understand what announcements are made in one’s home language, let alone in a foreign one.  But suffice it to say, we finally got out of Salta about 2.5 hours late.

The agent was right — we had had a long layover in Buenos Aires, and we had planned to spend the time with a leisurely lunch.  Instead, we had a race through the airport, from the domestic terminal to the international one, with incoherent signage (it turned out our Aerolineas Argentinas flight was co-shared and flying under a different name, but who knew?).  Long story short, we arrived in Sao Paulo by 6:30, got through a remarkably slow line at customs, found a taxi and arrived at our hotel.

Now, about the hotel.  I had reserved a room through Rotary, only to have Rotary cancel the registration last December for reasons obscure.  At that point I had gone online to Expedia and found a budget hotel that was a 2o minute walk from the Convention hotel.  How  bad could it be?

We were to find out.  The neighborhood was, umm, spotty.  We communicated at the front desk using the Google translator on our I-phones.  We asked for a nearby restaurant — remember we had eaten nothing from airplane “food” all day.  Blank stares until it turned out we could order room service.  We ordered hamburgers for immediate and breakfast for 8:00 a.m. We found the room, which was basic but serviceable, ate the mediocre hamburgers and fell into bed. Brazilians like hard beds.

Next morning, 8:00 arrived by breakfast did not.  We figured we could do better at the Convention hotel and went downstairs to ask for a taxi.  Still no English, and as it turns out, no taxi either.  Not for 30 minutes.  By that time I knew we were missing the opening plenary, and was not a happy camper.  The taxi finally arrived and his route to the Convention made clear that this was not a route we could walk.

In the end, we had a good breakfast at the Convention hotel, I went to the meetings and Frank was able to check us in at the Convention hotel and went back to collect our belongings and negotiate our escape.

We are now on the 7th floor of the Convention hotel, in comparably luxurious surroundings, and with a view of the skyscrapers of Sao Paulo from our window.  One of the negatives of staying in the Convention hotel is that one has less opportunity to get outside and discover the city, but at this point, US convenience — not to mention stories if street crime in Sao Paulo — are rapidly overcoming desire to explore.

And one more thing:  Even in our new hotel, life is not without its anomalies.  Frank and I were awakened rudely at 2:00 in the morning by a fire alarm. A false alarm, it turned out.  The saga continues.


Salinas Grandes, Argentina

June 3, 2015

IMG_0005Monday night the sky was clear and the moon full. One of the things that amazes me is that a full moon is full everywhere around the world at the same time. I understand the scientific explanation of why that is so, but it still gets me every time.

We woke early and didn’t linger over breakfast – as mentioned earlier, Jose’s  breakfast leaves something to be desired. After two days of traveling north on Route 9, today we were headed south, back to Purmamarca, where we had lunch two days ago.

We changed money and found a café for breakfast. When Frank thinks continental breakfast is a welcome addition to his day, you know he is unhappy with the provisioning!. A stray kitten jumped into my lap in the café, which made me happy, and so did the submarino, which is a hot chocolate, sort of, and a welcome change from all the tea I’ve been drinking (decaf is unheard of here in Argentina).

IMG_0024No sooner had we gotten back into the car when we were flagged down by a young woman who was hitching a ride to the Salinas Grandes. We took her in – first time we’ve picked up a hitchhiker ever in our marriage, I think, but it all turned out well. She is from Paris and has a volunteer job of some sort in Cordoba and was taking a few days to discover the country. She kept on referring to her friends who supposedly were with her, but I suppose I would be doing the same thing in her position. Her Spanish is quite good, but of course we caught her off guard with English, but she did her best. Anyway, it was good to help repay a few of the kindnesses I received as a student traveling in Europe by giving her a lift.

IMG_0020We traveled up-up-up – retaking the ground we had lost by coming down the valley. Our destination was in the Altoplano – the high country which is really the Andes even though it’s a plain. The summit was 4170 meters which, ladies and gentlemen, Frank did the math and tells me is 13,678 feet above mean sea level. That’s 2.5 miles high and nearly as high as the tallest peaks in Colorado. And that was the pass. It’s definitely the highest I’ve ever been and still had my feet on the ground, if you know what I mean.

IMG_0042It’s weird – we saw some snow off in the distance, and water on the road was frozen. But the air and the ground is so dry that basically we were in a high-altitude desert. We saw fenced-in llamas, and wild alpaca herds, and a few adobe houses. Not much else at this altitude.. We say plenty of saguaro, and then climbed higher than those cactus are willing to exist, which makes me think all the more  of the saguaro.

Our destination was the Salinas Grandes, salt flats that cover the landscape. Very flat, very white, and very salty. Well worth the excursion, but really, it’s hard to describe a salt flat other than endless and, you know, salty.

Then we turned around, returned to Pumamarca, dropped off our passenger and returned to Salta.  We were at 2.5 miles above sea level today, and are spending the night at about one mile high.  That’s enough!


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