The bulk of the tour season is behind me and I actually have a little free time to post something. The last month has been incredibly busy as I've worked several long stretches of tours without a break. Right now, I'm towards the end of a 10-day stretch that included the routine 8th grade tour, a marching band that came to perform in the National Memorial Day Parade, a middle school history club (starting this afternoon), and, most interesting of all, a group of families who have lost loved ones through their military service. They were in Washington for Memorial Day weekend at a conference of TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), a non-profit organization that helps these families cope with their loss.
I learned a lot about TAPS while I was with the group on Friday evening. The membership is made up of servicemen/women as well as people who have lost loved ones in the war -- any war -- and are willing to help others going through similar experiences. I can't even begin to tell you how impressed I was with this incredible organization! Not only do they help adults, but they have an outstanding program that matches children who have lost parents or siblings with active duty military members from the same branch of the service who act as their mentors and buddies. They even had a "Good Grief Camp" for children as part of the weekend's activities, a place where kids could express their feelings of loss and learn how to cope with it. The weekend conference had a lot of fun activities, but it also had seminars to help survivors deal with the paperwork and bureaucratic red tape, support group meetings, grief counseling, financial counseling, etc. What a wonderful resource for these families! They had over 1400 people attend!
TAPS had posted a request for tour guides on the Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, DC website a few weeks ago, asking for volunteers to lead tours for the families on Friday evening, and I was quick to jump at the chance. I met the group at their hotel in Crystal City, Virginia and had just a little over two hours to show them around the city. The motor coach was packed, so I had a young man (age 13) sitting next to me, his mom and younger sister across the aisle. His father was killed in action almost two years ago and I could still see the pain in his mother's face. I kept thinking how smart she was to take advantage of this organization to help them get through the difficult times. I was so impressed by all of the people on the tour -- the pride they felt for the loved ones they had lost seemed to far outweigh their feelings of grief. I'm sure they have all had many dark days, with more ahead, but they were all happy to be in Washington to celebrate Memorial Day and honor their fallen heroes. I felt truly honored to be a part of that!
I am fortunate that I have never lost a loved one in a war, and being a part of the Memorial Day activities all weekend reminded me of how lucky I am. It also reminded me of that old, but true saying: "Freedom isn't free!" That's one of the things I try to get across to all of my tour groups, especially the students, as I take them to the various memorials and monuments. I have a tremendous respect for those who serve(d) our country -- past and present -- and do all that I can to honor them. When I see someone in uniform, I thank them for their service. When I see veterans visiting the memorials (especially the World War II), I encourage my students to go up and speak with them and I do the same.
Memorial Day weekend is over, but that doesn't mean we should stop showing respect and honor for our servicemen and women. Just the opposite! It's easy to think about them on a special day, but I encourage you to think of them and pray for their safety every day! I know I do!
10 months ago