Today, my children are home from school, but my husband went off to work like any other normal day. It is one of countless normal days made possible by those in uniform who had to do things which were anything but normal, in circumstances which had lost all resemblance to the ordinary. Yesterday, I finished the second book of the Regeneration trilogy, The Eye in the Door, written by Pat Barker. The books are British novels set during World War I and they focus on the lives of officers receiving care from Dr. Rivers, a respected psychologist. He helps treat the officers and plays a large role in determining if they are fit to return to the Front or if their new post need be a desk or another hospital bed. It was a fitting book to read this weekend. Like any realistic World War I novels, they are described as being anti-war. And like any good war novels, they do not wrap the story up in a neat little bow or worry about the comfort of the readers. There is too much mud, terror, and death for neat little bows and comfort, although hope can always be found.
My Facebook profile and cover photo have not changed because there is no
picture good enough to represent the people this day was created
to honor. In my youngest years, I would remember civil war battlegrounds on this day. Growing up in the deep south, you are surrounded by the statistics and physical reminders of the gruesomeness of war. Of the inconceivable loss and the scars which never completely fade. Later, this day called forth memories of my visit to Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam War Memorial. Gravestones as far as my vision held. Names carved into stone slabs which stretched to a point invisible to me by distance and obstruction caused by the mourning who were discovering a particular name or leaving an offering. I remembered news reports of the controversy over the design of the Vietnam Memorial, which some people felt was ugly. But standing there, even as a sixteen year old, I knew there was no other form the memorial could take. It was stark and seemingly endless. The names would not stop coming; you were forced to be overwhelmed. It evoked silence as people felt a physical identity being given to the magnitude of their loss or others of us just began to realize the reality of death in war. Today, I am the mother of a little boy, only four years old. Since his birth, the way I view this day and all things related to war, has been changed.
As a sixteen-year-old, I thought the reality of that memorial belonged to the past. I didn't really believe we would ever be faced again with soldiers returning home for burial or coming home with missing limbs and all the other physical and mental scars of war. And yet, the funerals continue. Spouses, children, parents, surviving brothers-in-arms still grieve. And most of us just continue with our normal days, with our relatively normal lives.
Happy? Happy Memorial Day? Sometimes followed by exclamation
points? That I do not get, any more than I would get running up to a
grieving family in a funeral home or under a funeral tent which covers a
freshly-dug grave to exclaim, "Happy Funeral Day!" Here's a card on
the anniversary of the death of your loved one this year: "Happy Death
If you choose to take a vacation, think about how freely you travel to do so. Even our current airport security is not what others in so many parts of the world experience. Think how many lines, visible and invisible, you cross on your journey without being stopped by armed guards, without your progress being marked by dangerous check-points. In the chaos of the backyard barbecue, with children running around, squealing with fun or whining with heat and boredom, think of the fact that it really is not chaos. That most of us have never really experienced real chaos. When you're maxing out the credit card or counting saved pennies for the family vacations, figure out when you can get your kids to Washington, D.C. so they can see the gravestones and the names in person. So they can contrast it with the cool marble halls where decisions are made and papers are signed as to who will be sent to areas of Anything But Normal so we might enjoy just another normal day. If your children are old enough, begin a read-aloud at bedtime of The Hobbit. Think about the men represented by Bilbo Baggins. The men, of whom the book's author, J.R.R. Tolkien, was one, the men with which he served during The Great War--the war to end all wars--who were ripped from their cozy hearths to face tests of courage and horrors they never imagined possible. After the kids are in bed, watch a documentary or movie, or read a book which portrays the realities of loss in war. Something that makes you uncomfortable. Something that makes this day not just another ordinary day but which makes you thankful for all your ordinary days. I know I am always in need of the reminder.
God bless the souls of all those who died in service to their country. God bless their families and friends who still mourn their loss. God bless our politicians and give them wisdom as they make decisions. God bless those of us who benefit from all the loss and help us to never forget. Amen.