INDIANAPOLIS (RNS) Memorial Day weekend seemed a fitting moment to take two of my three sons to visit their 96-year-old grandfather in his health care unit here.
The World War II generation is fading away. Their sacrifices in war are inspirational memories, and their extraordinary decades of building American industry, infrastructure, education and world trade seem heroic compared to today's small-time pretenders.
Today's "masters of the universe" demand huge salaries simply for showing up, never mind performance. They rig systems to their benefit, send jobs overseas and spend workers' hard-earned pensions to cover up their poor management decisions. They feel entitled to government bailouts but feel no matching accountability to help their nation. The greedy are like locusts stripping the landscape bare.
Most of my father's generation have died. The rest struggle with poor memories, ill health and loneliness. We did him honor by bringing him Chinese food for lunch, then staying to play cribbage and to hear the "good old jokes" one more time.
The next day we attended the Indianapolis 500, where skilled driving and good luck matter more than a car owner's deep pockets. A few of the 300,000 race fans lining the speedway's fabled oval were rich folks safe inside air-conditioned boxes; the vast majority were regular folks savoring the heat.
We cheered veterans and active military when they paraded onto the racetrack. We observed a deafening moment of silence for those who died in battle. We sang along on "America the Beautiful." At least some of us teared up at "Back Home Again in Indiana."
Who knows what the mega-wealthy were doing in their boxes. At this race, no one cares. This event isn't about them and their pretensions of grandeur. Nor is it about the right-wing politics that they are trying to make the new standard of patriotism, as a cover for accumulating more wealth.
This event is about the three boys near my breakfast table who wore matching Cincinnati Reds baseball caps. It was about the Army man who shared parachuting stories with a veteran. It was about a father and his teenage son swapping travel stories.
It's tragic that our nation has fallen into the hands of charlatans and the self-serving. How did a people who built the interstate highway system devolve into a group that seems unwilling to do anything unless its good for themselves? How did the party of Eisenhower degenerate into would-be demagogues defaming anyone who stands between them and power? How did a nation that fought totalitarianism find it necessary to spy on the Occupy movement just because young adults questioned Wall Street?
It was a relief to be surrounded by regular folks who weren't bidding up $100 million apartments overlooking Central Park, or ratting out clients to their rich friends, or preparing scurrilous ads to undermine our president's basic humanity as a convenient pathway to power.
When people cheered the 2,000 military guests at the race, they weren't hating anyone, just giving thanks. When they sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," they were singing for an entire nation, not just a small subset of tax evaders and bigots.
When 33 race cars began their deafening tours at 220 mph and the usual attrition and mistakes sent many off the track, I felt blessed to be surrounded by my sons. I remembered my father's favorite saying: "Enough is as good as a feast."
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of "Just Wondering, Jesus" and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)
KRE/AMB END EHRICH