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Retreat is the pause that refreshes the heart and soul

We really need to keep this up more don't we??? It has been so crazy around here that I've had little time to sit and type. We are prepping for the FCAT, the dreaded Florida State test, sending out quarterly grades, having steering committee meetings for the FRG, Valentine's Parties in Pre-K, etc. etc. etc.

The list goes on and on, and I find that I barely have time to take an extra breath. But today, as I was racing around on the (military) base, trying to run a few errands before picking Kaitlyn up from ballet, I was forced to stop and breathe for a moment.

As I was hurrying into the commissary for cheese and crackers for the Pre-K party tomorrow, I heard the opening bugle sounds of 'Retreat.' For those of you who have never lived on a military installation, this is the bugle song that is played each day near 5 p.m. as the flag is lowered and folded for the evening.

When 'Retreat' is played, everyone halts and stands to face the nearest flag. Following 'Retreat,' the National Anthem is played.

As I stood in the crowded parking lot with harried mothers and busy soldiers and airmen rushing to finish up that last errand before heading home, something incredible happened.

Everyone stopped, turned toward the flag, and placed their hand over their heart. Mothers hushed small children and set their groceries down. Soldiers exiting their vehicles paused in motion. Veterans paused and took off their hats. The young and the old, in uniform and out of uniform, paused.

Not a sound could be heard but the playing of the Anthem.

For just one moment, everyone forgot about their busy lives and joined together to pay respect to the symbol of our nation.

And then, the music stopped and mothers picked up grocery sacks and held the hands of their children, soldiers and airmen returned to their tasks, veterans placed hats on their balding heads and the buzz of a weekday evening resumed.

But as we all walked away to continue our errands, I noticed a difference. The mothers seemed a little less harried, the children slightly less rambunctious, the soldiers and airmen a little less rushed, and the veterans stood a little taller.

The most incredible thing about those few moments is the fact that it happens every day on military installations around the world.

I am usually in traffic and miss this tradition. But on Thursday evenings, I am waiting for my daughter to finish ballet at the base youth center and for just that one day a week, I have the privilege of stopping and taking a moment to remember the things that are most important to me. Because that is what 'Retreat' is.

Sure, it is a little inconvenient to drop everything, but the privilege of that moment far outweighs the inconvenience. In that brief span of time, as I watch the flag lower, I am reminded of all the things I hold dearest: my family (in West Linn) that I live so far from, my husband who is home safe, my little girls who bring me so much joy, and the many freedoms that allow me to enjoy so many things.

In the chaos of everyday living, I am given a moment once a week to focus on the many privileges I have as a citizen of this country. I am given an opportunity to be thankful for my family and to be thankful for those who served with my husband and made the ultimate sacrifice. I am given an opportunity to enjoy the incredible silence of a crowd of people all thankful for the same things, coming together to honor all those who have gone before to provide us with those gifts.

It is a tradition that I have come to cherish.

There are many aspects of being an Army family that can be frustrating, challenging, even heartbreaking. But there are also moments when you realize that it is worth it, that you cannot imagine another life. Standing at attention while the flag is lowered is one of those moments. For those of us in the military, it is part of our everyday life. Pausing to honor the flag and all it stands for is something we do on a regular basis, something our children grow up knowing.

It is a privilege that the rest of America does not get. And I can't help but wonder if it would not be to their benefit.

Kelly Brown Wells is a 1994 graduate of West Linn High School. She has been teaching for eight years, and currently lives in Florida with her husband and two daughters.