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The Man on the Overpass: Memorial Day and Radical Acts for Change

Holidays, symbols, history—there’s so much to talk about! Brace yourselves—this article is loaded!

Just in case you missed it, Monday was Memorial Day. I had good intentions of writing a patriotic piece honoring our American soldiers, but I ended up travelling all day and didn’t get a chance to post. But hey, better late than never.

Although I couldn’t post on Monday, I did spend a considerable amount of time deliberating how I would write this article when I finally got around to it.

How could I thank our soldiers for their inexplicable sacrifices? How could I put my gratitude into words? As I mulled this over, I witnessed a phenomenal act that would answer my questions.

Highway OverpassMy friend and I were on our way to the airport when we came upon a man standing on an overpass overlooking the highway below. He stood rigidly, dressed in a military uniform, holding an American flag in his left arm. His body was silhouetted against the bright blue sky and the American flag waved gloriously in the wind. As we drove under the overpass, he raised his right hand to his forehead and saluted.

I saw the man for a mere three seconds before he exited my range of vision as we drove under the overpass. In three seconds, he awakened in me a sense of unmatched patriotic pride. His gesture was so pure, honest, genuine, meaningful, and unique. He didn’t hold a sign reminding people to “thank a soldier.” He didn’t post a quote on Twitter. He didn’t say a word. But his silent stance spoke to my heart. His salute and the waving American flag filled me with an overwhelming sense of pride, patriotism, respect, and gratitude. His face radiated quiet courage. His posture exemplified respect. His silent symbol—so serious, sincere, strong, and focused—represented a cause greater than himself. His wordless statement spoke volumes.

Sometimes, the loudest message is the silent one.

As I considered the man on the overpass, I thought about the statement he was making with his silent act.

Girl holding starbucks drinkToday, it seems like everyone is making some sort of statement. Whether by kneeling for the national anthem, boycotting Starbucks, or staging a die-in at Publix, people are dead-set on making a point by disrupting the norm and fighting against the system. So many people believe that these radical acts are designed to promulgate positive change. Ironically, these statements are typically so outrageous they overshadow the cause they are supposedly representing. I contend that these statements are designed to draw attention to the act rather than the issue. They are motivated by a desire for attention.

nfl professional football player kneelingFor example, people are talking more about the NFL not kneeling for the national anthem than social justice. And how about the Starbucks boycott? People are talking more about Starbucks’ new policy than racism in the workforce. And playing dead at Publix? The media is more interested in Publix’s reaction than gun control or the NRA. The act overshadows the cause.

That being said, there is a time to highlight an issue with a radical act. Many of our forefathers resorted to radical acts designed to incite change. One example is The Boston Tea Party, a radical act by the Sons of Liberty protesting the British tea tax in 1773 (learn more about the Boston Tea Party here).

So when and how should radical acts be made? There are a few important points to consider:

1. Will the act accurately represent the cause?

The Boston Tea Party was directly related to the issue our founding fathers were representing—an unfair tax on tea.

2. Is the act the last resort?

The Sons of Liberty ultimately dumped 45 tons of tea into the Boston Harbor (worth about $1,000,000 in today’s money). However, this was not the first act protesting the tea tax. Granted, their previous methods involved undermining British authority, often through the use of fear and force. While I cannot condone these methods, it’s worth noting that the Boston Tea Party was utilized after a variety of other failed protests. Dumping tea into the harbor was the last resort. It was a last-ditch effort to make a statement.

3. How much thought has been put into the act?

A substantial amount of forethought and consideration was put into the Boston Tea Party. Even as the men dumped thousands of pounds of tea into the harbor, they upheld a code of conduct. There was no looting of the ships and no tea was stolen. Following the act, the men swept the decks clean. They made sure that nothing other than tea was damaged.

4. Will the act overshadow the issue?

By cleaning up after themselves and forbidding looting, the Sons of Liberty made a point solely about the tea tax. Their goal was not vengeance or destruction, it was about the tea tax. They made a point and they made it well. The issue they were highlighting was not lost in their act. Their cause was represented and their true intentions were not lost.

So what does this have to do with the man on the overpass? The man on the overpass used an act to make a statement and represent a cause—the men and women serving in the military. He did something radical to draw attention to an issue. Granted, it may not have been a controversial issue (who would argue against honoring American soldiers), but it was an issue nonetheless. His act wasn’t designed to draw attention to himself. It wasn’t designed to incite pomp and ceremony. Rather, it was designed to incite remembrance, and I guarantee his message touched every soul that witnessed it.

America, we could learn something from the man on the overpass. Silent protests are often the loudest. Make a statement and stand for a cause—but be wise in your actions and never lose sight of your goal. Make a statement through your actions, your character, your attitude.

A smile in the face of adversity and a kind word in response to an insult will make more of a statement than any publicized protest.

black and white american soldier with gunAnd to those who are serving in America’s military, words fail to express my gratitude for your sacrifice. Although my words are inadequate, I promise that your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. I recognize the hard choices you must make, the years of service you dedicate to a cause greater than yourself, and the mentality of self-sacrifice you silently represent. Thank you—from the very bottom of my heart.

If you actually like my patriotic and political rants, check out another one: I Pledge Allegiance to Blind Patriotism

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