Monday, May 30, 2011

Decoration Day

Decoration Day, now referred to as Memorial Day, was first celebrated by African American freedmen at the cemetery of 257 Union soldiers whose gravesite was labeled, "Martyrs of the Race Course" on May 1, 1865.

Warning: This blog post has swearing in it. You should probably just navigate away if that is problematic for you.

I celebrated Memorial Day like we do here in America by planting thousands of impatiens, painting my front door, making a trip to the hardware store, and cooking a turkey burger.

It was quiet here, which gave me time to reflect on Memorial Days past, back when there was more memorial and less day.

I’m not sure exactly when my obsession with military history began, but it started with Vietnam. With tiny little children in every direction, I devoured memoir, strategy, and history between Dr. Seuss and Charlotte’s Web. I wept over Tim O’Brien’s brilliant The Things they Carried, and was consumed by China Beach, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket among others. It was the beginning but not the end.

In the years that followed, other wars found their way to my bookshelves and combat movie marathons became ritual on Memorial and Veterans days. We traveled to DC and bore witness to greatness, absorbing the history inherent in our every breath. We watched parades and saluted at Fleet Week and clambered aboard long docked warships.

I knew a lot. Enough, on one particular day, to realize that I knew nothing.

I had friends who had cancer and whose parents had died. People with Downs Syndrome kids and cheating spouses. Some who couldn’t afford groceries and some who could drown in their money and their sorrow. Living in a reality I could not conceive, they were on the front lines, while I, in the words of those brave men and women who served in Vietnam, was a REMF—a rear echelon motherfucker. (I told you there'd be swearing. It's over now)

It's funny that I remember so vividly the moment I knew this; the alternating relief for my good fortune and shame for my easy lot in life; the uneasy sense that there were no stripes on my sleeve or blood on my uniform and if I wanted them they were going to cost me.

Today I thought about that moment. About how much I miss my brave and amazing children who slogged through Europe with Band of Brothers because they understood, far earlier than I did, that life is a fight.  I thought about the men and women whose minds have forgotten their heroism, and those who call on it daily because there are children to raise and lawns to mow while a beloved is in Afghanistan.  I remembered again that only those who haven't served are eager to pick a fight, and those who have, search for peace the rest of their lives.

The days since that revelation have seen iron bonds forged with comrades in arms, years and people gone for good.  I had to get tough and get going and God help me, I hope I never have to fight those same battles again, but if I do it will be ok.  There is blood on my uniform now. That doesn't make me special--it makes me part of the human race.  Look around and rejoice at the battle scars which surround you, the inspiration to be found when we see grace amidst the fight.

Here's to life at the front.

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