ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — They are two men who have seen a lot of life – one 82, one 90.
Over the decades, they’ve seen wars and riots and economic downturns. They’ve seen the best of America and the worst. History is etched across their hearts and their faces.
“When you get to my age, you go through a lot of circumstances, some better than the rest,” said Dave Hesse, the one who is 82.
But these days.
“You turn the TV on lately and it’s all bad things,” said Jack Duarte, the one who is 90. “What the heck is going on?”
They know what is going on as much as anybody can these days when the news comes at you fast, hard and painful like a swarm of murder hornets to an unguarded beehive.
The world, they know, is convulsing under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crash, the despair and destruction over the death of a black man under a white cop’s knee and the American carnage many of us had hoped was only bizarre hyperbole.
“This is crap,” Hesse said, echoing most Americans.
Neither of the men, however, reached out to talk about the country’s trauma – not directly, anyway. In separate efforts, each wanted to relate an experience that lightened the load of a weary world for them and brightened their day.
Their hope, and mine, is that their stories brighten yours, too.
Duarte’s story happened this week in a Smith’s grocery store in Rio Rancho. He lives across the street, doesn’t drive anymore, so he trundles his purchases in his own cart. It’s something of a production, especially during a pandemic.
On Monday, though, his trip hit a snag.
“I got to the checkout, and that’s when I realized I had no wallet,” he said. “I’m telling the cashier to just leave my groceries here when the lady behind me says, ‘No, I’ll pay for it.’ ”
Duarte was stunned.
“Jeepers, it was such a surprise,” he said. “I couldn’t believe my ears.”
He said the cost of his purchase was about $50.
Duarte said he waited for the woman to finish checking out so he could speak with her.
“I said, ‘Ma’am, I thank you very much, but I’d like to know your name and address so I can give you a check,’ ” he said.
Her response: “No, my friend.”
The woman, who gave her name only as Sharon, didn’t want to reveal her address. What she wanted, he said, was to give him a hug.
“And I wanted to give her a hug, too,” he said. “But we both knew we couldn’t because of the virus. So we gave each other an elbow bump.”
Duarte was so moved by this simple act of kindness that he went home and called his daughter, his friends, his assisted living manager and the Journal.
“I just had to share the good news,” he said with glee. “Today, the way people are, it’s just scary. It’s like the end of the world. But something like this – it restores some of my faith in humanity.”
The story Hesse shares happened on Memorial Day, which has special significance for him because he’s a 13-year veteran of the Air Force, did a tour of duty in Vietnam and came out with all his faculties but knows so many of his brothers in arms didn’t.
Also of special significance to him is the playing of taps.
“I’m deeply affected by that song,” Hesse said. “It honors my fallen brothers and reduces me to mush.”
Like everything else these days, the typical commemorations and events of Memorial Day were canceled because of COVID-19 concerns. But Hesse had heard of a new one, this one inviting volunteer buglers and trumpet players across the country to pause at 3 p.m. that day to play taps. The movement, called Taps Across America, was organized by Buglers Across America, Taps for Veterans and Steve Hartman of CBS News.
Two local TV stations featured the Albuquerque volunteers who planned to participate – two at Hoffmantown Church, one in his front yard and one at Mariposa Basin Park in Taylor Ranch, not far from Hesse’s home.
“Taps shreds me to the bone when I hear it, but I felt it was my duty to go experience the event,” Hesse said. “I put on a patriotic shirt and donned my Vietnam veterans cap, and my lady and I headed for the park.”
They arrived early, looking for the bugler. But all they found were folks who had also come to hear taps and an Albuquerque Fire Rescue truck, its occupant also hoping to hear the powerful, poignant song.
The bugler never showed.
But at 3 p.m., the national moment of remembrance, Hesse and the others at the park had an idea. One woman had taps on her phone, recorded at Arlington National Cemetery. And the officer with the firetruck had a PA system.
So with a little collaboration and community spirit, taps wafted across the green fields of Mariposa Basin Park, with about 25 citizens standing at attention, saluting.
As he anticipated, Hesse turned to mush.
For a moment, his patch of country felt a little more unified, respectful, full of grace. Like Duarte found in Sharon at Smith’s, Hesse found a little faith in humanity, a little unexpected kindness and camaraderie, a little more reason to hope that this country makes it through these troubling times.
And maybe that’s how we do it – with small, simple moments of grace, a measure of civic duty, a stand for what is just and good for the whole rather than just the self, with a song for those we honor, with faith and kindness, with hope for brighter days.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, email@example.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.