The wind has howled all night, as we have moved from Pentecost to Memorial Day. I woke up with a vague unease, as I often do on Memorial Day.
Is it because of Memorial Day? Even though my dad was in the Air Force, and then the Air Force reserve, for most of my life, I, like many Americans, have felt some ambivalence about the military. I have some trouble reconciling my religious beliefs which tend towards pacifism, to the necessity for military protection. There have been times in my lifetime where I've thought, at last, we're moving towards a world that won't need military action. And then the world launches into a new form of barbarism.
It is impossible not to realize the cost of war. There's the money, of course, and the death of soldiers. We may forget the other costs: the families of military members, the injured veterans, the civilians damaged in so many ways, peace of all kinds shattered.
So, on this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue, let us pause to reflect and remember. If we're safe right now, let us spend a moment in gratitude. Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places. And recent events have reminded me that the world we feel is safe can quickly dissolve into conflict and war.
Oh so quickly.
Today, I'd like to be at a national monument, listening to one of the service bands perform. Or maybe I'd rather be in a contemplative spot, saying a thank you. Or maybe something more festive. I miss the small town parades; I know that my college town of Newberry, South Carolina will be celebrating in ways that remind me of the 1950's. Now, I no longer know the stories of my neighbors. I don't know whose great great grandfather/uncle served in which ways.
Now I live in a place that feels more like a future U.S., where English isn't the dominant language, where there are more recent arrivals than people with ancestors buried in the soil. Most days, I'm cool with this, and invigorated by it.
But today, I feel uneasy. Part of it is the wind. I've lived in states in the U.S. South where this kind of wind portends a fiercer wind later, as the heat has time to build to storms.
Part of my unease is how invisible the military feels to so many people today. Once, all of my schoolmates had relatives, often a father, who had served in the military. Now I find that I'm often the only one. Growing up, I chafed a bit under the expectations of military family discipline. Now I find myself thinking we might all be better if national service was required.
In his lecture several weeks ago, David Brooks responded to a question about the value of national service. He said, "A kid from Connecticut living with a kid from Birmingham living with a kid from Cody, Wyoming--that would be valuable in many ways."
We've become a more stratified society in so many ways, and not just the economic ways that often trigger handwringing. More and more, most of us tend to meet people just like us. Maybe that's the source of my unease.
But most likely my unease comes from this day to honor the dead--while realizing that we are far from a world where we can beat our swords into ploughshares and practice war no more.
So, let me return to a valuable practice. Let me pray to the One who has more power than I do in these matters.
A prayer I wrote for Memorial Day (see the end of this post) could also make a good poem. Let me try some transformation.
The wind howls on this Memorial Day, as if the souls
lost to war have come to claim our attention. The howls echo
the moaning of those who celebrate this day not by a grill
but beside a grave.
At least those souls have graves. On this day, how many honor
the bodies fertilizing foreign soil? Civil War soldiers sewed
addresses of loved ones onto their uniforms in the hopes
that they would be remembered.
On this day after Pentecost, we welcome
visions of a day when soldiers have no jobs
to do. We dream of the time when we beat
all our military metals
into instruments of peace.
This poem is different than the prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:
God of comfort, on this Memorial Day, we remember those souls whom we have lost to war. We pray for those who mourn. We pray for military members who have died and been forgotten. We pray for all those sites where human blood has soaked the soil. God of Peace, on this Memorial Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this Memorial Day,we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.
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