Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day Lament

Memorial Day. This is not supposed to be a day about picnics and store-wide sales. It is day about remembering. Specifically, it is a day we recall the losses experienced through war. In England, on their approximately equivalent occasion, Remembrance Day , the whole country goes silent for two minutes - on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Everything stops. People stand still in the streets. Traffic does not move. Customers are not served. Everyone gets quiet and remembers the fallen. Here in America, we have so many fallen to remember. Please lament their losses with me for the two minutes it might take you to read this. Give them that honor.


Our nation's history is creased with war.
Our earth cries out with spilled lives,
and the memories of those who once lived --
Our young men and women,
Innocent as new sheaves of hay,
Earnest, willing,
devoted to their service, their country.

We sent these children to battle
To fight other mother's children,
To be immersed in the carnage and brutality
From which we tried to protect them as children.

The same children whose skinned knees we bandaged.
We ask to kill or be killed in our name.
We ask them to be heroic, to risk their lives.
To risk death for us.
And other mothers ask the same of their chidren,
The ones who oppose our children.

Oh, lost and perished children of America,
We miss what you could have been,
You left wives, husbands, lovers, children, parents
behind you, mourning.

Oh, today's dying service men and women,
Even as we read this, you are dying.
We almost cannot take it in -- all this suffering, this violence.
We are stricken by your courage, your ability to endure.
You do what we cannot.
You face what we cannot.

OH, beloved sons and daughters,
The memory of your joy haunts us.
We fend off the need to understand how you died in detail,
As though it would bring us peace.
For without you, there is no lack of grief.
It surrounds us at the sound of your names.

You laid down your life for the combatant next to you,
For us, for your country.
And we remember you.
We cannot stop remembering you,
Your memory is engraved in our souls.
We want to make sure that you died for something important and right.
It is our obligation to lose you for no less than that.

They handed us a flag when we buried you.
It was done with dignity.
We hold it, numb with pain at your loss.
Later we took it out of its box and pressed our cheeks to it,
Remembering you.
But it did not bring you home.

Oh, our scarred children, spouses, brothers, sisters --
Those who left only a part of themselves dead "over there",
Who come back hurt in the soul.
War killed your innocence, and you cannot get it back.
You walk the house at night, checking the perimeter.
You have memories that haunt you, of the dead, the dying,
Of the fear that was your life 24/7.
You stay armed and ready.
You never sit with your back to the door.
In a corner of your soul, the war just won't stop.
We mourn with you what you have lost.
We welcome you home, knowing who you are, loving you.
Remembering for you when you cannot remember yourself,
What it was like before the war took part of you away.

Oh brothers, sisters, husbands, wives -
The battles have names - the cities names mark the progress of war -
Antietem, Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, Atlanta,
Wounded Knee, Gallipoli, Little Big Horn,
Verdun, Khanjahar, Normandy Invasion, Rumaila,
Battle of the Bulge, Inchon, Gulf of Tonkin,
Your deaths spill dreams for a future with you into foreign soils.
We wanted family picnics and reunions, quiet nights and celebrations.
We dreamed of holding you, gathering at your 80th birthday party.
We wanted you to be a parent, an elder, a member of the community, the tribe.

Oh Lord,
Be with us as we mourn.
This day is not a day for the harkening of noble sentiment.
It is for remembering, for feeling the cost of war.
It is for knowing the truth - that any loss is painful, even loss for a cause.
It is for comforting those who have lost,
The mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers --
Lovers, spouses, children.

This is the day we take silence.
This is the day we let ourselves feel
That every loss has diminished what we could have become,
Even if it was lost in a good cause.
This is the day we feel the other side of grief's coin --
The part that hurts, the part that remembers.

This is the day we feel the price of vigilance.
This is the day we remember
Not to put our beloved ones in harm's way,
Unless we are willing to have this day.
This memory.
This moment
When who they are, what they could have been,
Shimmers before our eyes like the wish we will never have.

May all those who recall sacrifices on this day
Find comfort.

May the day come when losses through war
Are a distant memory.


Blogger Rebecca Ramsey said...

That's beautiful.
I'll be remembering my granddad today, who died on my mother's first birthday in World War II.
Thank you for the post!

10:48 AM  

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