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The difference between silver and gold

I heard on NPR the story of a man who was a sergeant in the Massachusetts Army National Guard and served on the honor guard at military funerals. His duty was to sound Taps. It’s phrased that way because he didn’t actually play the song (he didn’t know how to play the bugle). Instead, he carried around a ceremonial bugle—a silver one that was fitted with a speaker in its bell. You pressed the “on” button, adjusted the volume and sounded Taps. Of course, if you did it well enough, the undiscerning would never notice that you’re not really playing.

But the attempt to deceive was not the intent of the sergeant or what drives this situation. The problem came about because the demand for military funerals far exceeded the number of available buglers. It was the only solution that would provide the veterans with the funeral they deserved in the absence of qualified buglers.

The sergeant had done this a couple of hundred times when after one funeral, a lady came up to him and said that it was the most beautiful Taps she had ever heard. It didn’t sit well with him because the woman thought he had played the song so he decided to do something about it. He knew someone who played the bugle and sought his help. He gave him some exercises to do to build the muscles required to play and the sergeant found an old bugle to practice with. It took quite a while but eventually he learned how to play Taps well enough to replace the silver bugle at funerals.

But he didn’t stop there. Now he trains others to play Taps. He’s now played the song at somewhere close to five hundred funerals. He said “it is the right thing to do” and “hopefully, one day someone will do it for me.”

Here’s a man driven to show honor and respect to others—to the point that unless he was doing his best for them, he wasn’t satisfied. That’s a view of community that is as noble as it is needed. Most of us are willing to check the community box and do what we think we are expected to do and there’s something to be said for showing up with our silver bugles. But to move beyond that as the sergeant did is to enter the land of the golden rule and that’s holy land.

Sometimes what really matters in life is the difference between silver and gold.

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