|From Memorial Day, 2014, The Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery. Photo by J. Berta.|
Today is Memorial Day. Originally set for May 30th, it is now observed the last Monday in May. When first observed, it was to honor the dead from the Civil War. Now, it is a time to remember all of our military killed in combat. To say that the holiday has...evolved from its initial observances would be accurate. Memorial Day now stands at the intersection of the streets of "Somber Remembrance" and "The Start of Summer."
If you're active on Facebook, you've likely seen a number of posts gently (and not so gently) reminding folks that this is not Veterans' Day, nor just (yippie!) a three-day weekend.
I don't have any issues with these posts. I think (myself included) can use a reminder. In our hyper-in-the-moment world, it is easy to lose perspective.
Here's a poem by Archibald MacLeish that helped me find that perspective:
The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak by Archibald MacLeish
The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night
and when the clock counts.
They say: We were young. We have died.
They say: We have done what we could
but until it is finished it is not done.
They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave.
They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours,
they will mean what you make them.
They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning. We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.
What a fantastic poem. If you're wondering (as I was) who was Archibald MacLeish, I've got some links to him in the sources. I could do an entire post on this guy. However, for today, I'll simply share that he was a American Soldier and poet whose brother, Ken, is one of the young men mentioned in the poem.
However, I do believe perspective is important. I do not think there is anything wrong with enjoying the day, the weather (even if it's raining, it's not snow) and time with family and friends. I have every intention to hang out with both groups later today. If anyone were to spend the entire day engaged in some secular "Shiva sitting" that would be, in my opinion, an unnecessary act of self-denial of time set aside from work and other obligations.
I'd go a step further. I believe the reason we honor our dead is because they gave their lives for the idea of America. Of course, that idea includes our form of Government and the freedoms enriched in that structure. Yet it also includes the concepts of, "...the pursuit of happiness," (Declaration of Independence) and "... a more perfect union," (The U.S. Constitution). Vague terms that are best given meaning by individuals actually engaged in the process of living their lives.
I'd argue that at the heart of what it means to be an American, to live in this great nation, is the freedom to gather with those who matter most and yes, laugh and smile. How many people around the world cannot gather for fear of a bomb blast? How many others gather not in joy, but in squalor, in some wretched refugee camp?
My friends, we do not have that here. We do not have that because women and men possessed with courage died to keep such horrors from us. The died so that if they could not enjoy fellowship, friendship and love, then at least we could.
One of my favorite books is Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Although it is a fictionalized tale of the stand of the 300 Spartans against the Persian Army, it is based on history. I also find it to have some great life lessons. One of my favorite is towards the end of the book where one of the Spartans answers the question:
"What is the opposite of fear?"
To me, Memorial Day is a time to, in your own way, recall those who did, as Lincoln proclaimed at Gettysburg, "...gave the last full measure of devotion..." After paying that tribute, then enjoy the day. I know many Veterans and have heard many express this same sentiment.
I would suggest that if you have a flag, please fly it today. This is one of the national holidays to fly it. I put a link below to the other times. In many communities, local groups will put up a flag for you. I love the look in my community of seeing street lined with Old Glory. For me, I like putting out my own flag.
|Our flag in front of our house on Memorial Day 2015. Photo by J. Berta.|
Speaking of the flag, My friend Mikel shared this on Facebook yesterday of Robin Williams. I think it is just super. If anyone takes offense from this, well, then please watch it again. I see it as a wonderful marriage of humor and honor. Let us also recall that that Williams was the Bob Hope of this generation for entertaining the troops on countless USO tours. To me, his patriotism credentials are beyond reproach.
Oh, sorry, here's the video:
I'm going to close out this blog post with a poem I wrote about today. As I've said before, I consider myself, at best, a bar stool poet. However, I've had this poem in my head for a while and wanted to get it onto paper (or at least a WORD.DOC). When we think of today, by all means, let us honor the fallen. Yet let us also remember those they left behind. For whom, their laughter will never be quite as loud, their smile never quite as wide, since the moment they learned their loved one had perished under our flag.
The setting for this poem is The National Cemetery at the Rock Island Arsenal. It is a place that will be visited my many like the person featured in this poem.
The First Left Turn by Jeno Berta
The car slows, a green light flashes.
It makes the first left turn, past the gate,
Entering a place of honor, a place of peace.
An aged hand shifts the car into park, removing the keys.
The other hand opens the door, the same hand with a ring,
A ring given decades ago.
For a promise made, for a promise kept.
With effort, the car door opens.
Legs worn with age touch the ground.
The same ground walked countless times.
Slowly, yet with purpose, she walks to a simple stone.
From a distance, it looks like all the others.
To her, there is no other.
In silence, she stares, she prays.
A tear glides down a wrinkled cheek.
She closes her eyes, so she can see him.
He, a young man, trim and proud.
In a uniform, with buttons bright in the summer sun.
How they dazzled that day, their wedding day.
There was no lovey honeymoon, no fancy trip out of town.
No one had money for such things back then.
Besides, he was leaving soon. Too soon.
Off to war, away from her.
Then one day, her doorbell rang.
She knew. She knew before she answered the door.
They brought him home, laid him to rest.
To his funeral, many came.
To his grave, few still do.
But she comes.
To see his name.
To touch the stone.
And for as long as she is able, she will continue,
Continue to make that first left turn.
To remember is to honor.
Be well my friends,