My buddy Terry called me from Los Angeles the other day. He wanted to talk about that amazing three-point shot of Kobe Bryant's that helped the lackluster Lakers win the second game of the NBA finals.

While he was on the phone, I asked my California pal if he'd been by to pay his respects to President Reagan yet.

He hadn't.

As we spoke, Sgt. York, the riderless horse, was leading a processional down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.

"Where are they now?" Terry asked me.

"Somewhere between the White House and the Capitol building," I replied. "It's supposed to take 45 minutes or more for them to get there."

I walked that very same course last November in oh, about 15 minutes.

"Could they walk any slower?" Terry asked.

"It's a dirge," I replied. "It's supposed to be slow."

I'm the sort of gal who loves a ceremony, particularly any that involves gloves, high heels and hats. And most especially, ones that involve full-dress military regalia. I'm sure it's part of that Southern upbringing that included trips to Fort Benning on Flag Day, Armistice Day and Armed Forces Day, not to mention the Fourth of July.

But I understood my buddy's remark. I heard more than one commentator say last week that Nancy Reagan's signature style was all over her husband's funeral. And, well, Nancy's style has never been understated.

Crowded places overwhelm me, so I probably would not have joined the throngs waiting four or five hours in line to see a flag-draped coffin. But I appreciate the people who did and I love the heartfelt humanity that propelled them to do it.

I've just returned from a trip that took me from America's Left Bank (Los Angeles) to the Right Bank (D.C.) via the nation's belly. I traveled via motorcycle through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, etc.

I went at the invitation of a veteran, as part of Run for the Wall. For 10 days, I never bought a single meal. That's because every morning, noon and night, members of VFW posts and American Legions and other veteran organizations throughout the nation served our group of more than 300 people. In many states, they bought our gas as well.

The folks at Mel's Motor Garage in Oakley, Kan., mopped the oil-stained floors, hung up greasy tools and called on nearly everyone in town to make sandwiches and cookies for us. After lunch, we listened as a local gal sang the National Anthem with such purity of voice the hosts of heaven were probably weeping. Many of us certainly were.

Grandfathers and grandmothers sat on the hoods on their cars or stood on the flatbeds of their pickups, waving flags and cheering for us. In one West Virginia town, an entire elementary school turned out with notebooks, seeking autographs from veterans.

Never once did I see anyone stand on an overpass or sit by the roadside and wave a John Kerry or George Bush slogan or flag. Hundreds of people stood in afternoon heat and drizzling rain to wave hands, fists and sometimes their toddler's legs. Most folks simply waved versions of Old Glory. Some were the size of handkerchiefs. Some the size of tablecloths. In Wentzville, Mo., the fire department used its tallest ladder to hang a flag as big as a football field.

Some political pundits have speculated that Reagan's death may encourage us as a nation to not be so nasty with each other during an election year. I hope so. Because at our very core, it doesn't matter if we're Laker fans or Piston fans, if we're from the Left Bank, or the Right Bank or Midlothian, Va. We're Americans, first and foremost.

If President Reagan taught us anything, it's that being an American is an honor that demands respect and responsibility.

We ought to treat that role and one another accordingly.

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