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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. Remember us.   

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. 

They say, We leave you our deaths: 
give them their meaning: give them an end to the war
and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war 
and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning.

We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us. 

poem by Archibald MacLeish

Today is about the men and women that have died in service to their country, regardless of their race, religion, political affiliation, gender, sexuality, marital status and nationality.  It is about someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, someone’s father, someone’s aunt or uncle or cousin, someone’s grandfather or grandmother or however many great’s one might need to add, someone’s lover, someone’s partner, someone’s friend.

Today is not about a barbecue or camping trip.  It is not about a boat ride, or trip to the beach.  It is not about that furniture sale for snaging a new area rug or an ottoman.  Today is not about you and, even as a veteran, it is not about me–it is about the men and women that never got to come home and hang up their uniform and trade in their combat boots for sneakers or heels.  Today is about the men and women that didn’t get to see their children grow up, or graduate, or give them grandchildren to spoil.  I don’t think the men and women that chose to put themselves in harm’s way because they believed in the ideal of service and freedom would begrudge you any of those things…indeed, I think many of them, were they still with us, would be enjoying a cold one in the hand and hot one off the grill.  But.

A midst our weekend plans, it is our mission to remember that our barbecue or camping trip or visit to the zoo is made possible by the death of our brothers and sisters–of somebody’s mother, somebody’s son.

War is brutal, it is bloody, and it kills.  There is no glory in war, no glory in sending our mothers and fathers and sons and daughters to kill another’s mothers and fathers and sons and daughters.  It is a tragic and painful fact that every nation and every generation has seen conflict escalate to war–whether it be to combat a cruel leader seeking to oppress their people (or another’s people), or a hapless legislature sending their might abroad for spurious reasons.  Humanity will never be perfect, there will always be someone that is willing to kill in the most heinous of ways to achieve power, and there will always need to be someone willing to take up arms against them.  This means that the innocent will die alongside the not-so innocent, and that communities and entire countries will be ravaged, both the people and the land.  There may be no glory in war, but there can be honor in service.  There is honor in protecting our homes, our families, our land, and our ideals.  There is honor in standing up for the downtrodden, for seeking to bring justice where there was tyranny, and to try our damnedest to secure equality and freedom for a new generation.

There are many reasons that men and women choose to serve their country, and there are men and women that are unwillingly selected to serve their country and choose to fulfill that requirement out obligation.  Regardless of reason or length of service, they are all worthy of our respect.  They serve in times of war, in times of peace, as well as the in-between.  Many, if not most, of them come home, but none of them are unchanged by the experience.  And many of them, too many of them, do not return at all.

Let us remember the countless and often unknown women that have served their country from its conception and died in combat, despite prohibitions against such service.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us remember those that have served their country to protect rights they could only hope that they could one day claim as well, from the Colored Troops of the Civil War to the gay and lesbian troops still fighting for equal protection of the law and equal recognition of their families.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us remember those of the Pagan community that have given their life in service to their country, despite often being an unrespected minority in both environments.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us remember those that have died in service, whether that be in the moment of battle, or months or years after they have returned to a home-that-is-no-longer-home, unable to find their way.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us remember all of those that have died fulfilling their Oath of Enlistment–to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, bearing true faith and allegiance to the same, and doing their job, so that others within our populace do not have to.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us remember the still missing, far from home, whose bodies have never been recovered and returned.  May their families one day find solace and closure.

Hail the honored dead!

Let us celebrate their lives, however short they may have been cut. Let us thank their families and extend them our sympathies, for the anguish of loss that has allowed us to stay home, or to come home safely if we have served. Let us remember, and let us find a way to give their lives and their deaths meaning.

Hail the honored dead!

Let their deaths be a solemn reminder on this day, and every day, to treat one another with compassion, to honor and respect our differences as well as our similarities, and to live our lives in a manner that kindles the spirit of peace a little bit stronger and a little bit longer, pushing back the darkness of war for as long as we are able.

 

**Note**
The Hubby and I have been working on a family ritual for Memorial Day for some time.  As veterans, both of us have lost friends–family really, to our current wars.  Both of our families have had somewhat of a tradition of service, and between the two of us, we have had family serve in all four branches of the military and in all of this country’s major wars.  We choose, on this day (or sometimes on the Monday), to pay our respects to the sacrifice of the 1.3-1.7 million Americans that have died (numbers vary a bit) in service to their country, and to their countrymen.   We combine the Pagan traditions of the dumb supper, or of leaving and offering for the gods or one’s ancestors, with the military’s tradition of “the little white table” that features so hauntingly in chow halls and shipboard mess decks to honor the missing and the prisoners of war that cannot be with us, by adding a place at the table as a memorial, a tribute, and an invitation.  Tomorrow (while I’m at work), The Hubby is going to try his first solo craft with the kidlets, making poppies using paper plates and peanut butter cup wrappers, in an adaptation of these instructions.   This year, we’ve decided to add the playing of The Last Post and Taps (The Last Post is a British tradition, but was the original “taps” call for us as well until the writing of Taps during our Civil War) at the beginning and the end of our moment of silence (at this point, about all a 6 and 4 year old can manage), before reading the above (which has been cobbled together and adapted from the past few Memorial Day posts I’ve written), and following it up with a prayer from the Unitarian Universalist Association’s “Bless All Who Serve”.  Over time, as their capacity to understand grows, we would like to include them more and to add some other readings, as well as a roll call of sorts of the number of casualties for each war…and extend the moment of silence for the entire meal–I’d also like to work on creating a special meal, though I haven’t had the chance to work on that yet.

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