Memorial Day. America’s day of remembering. At Minnesota’s Fort Snelling National Cemetery and other places as well, there are somber ceremonies of remembrance. VFW vets on parade. Speechifying politicians. Gun salutes. Taps. Bagpipes. That soul-searing tradition where the piper plays Amazing Grace and slowly, slowly walks up and over the berm, out of sight, with the music growing fainter and fainter as he goes. Please read on.
Memorial Day. Some of us trot out American flags to flap for a day or two in the fresh spring breeze. Some of us make a pilgrimage to the cemetery to place flowers on the graves of our loved ones. In some cases, they are loved ones who served our country in its military. Some of them died in service. Some died afterwards from grave injuries or from toxic substances they encountered in foreign wars.
Memorial Day. My grandparents and parents. Assorted uncles and aunts. My dear friend Rachel. Beautiful Mary, whose life ended at age 46 from cancer that went undetected for too long. My great-grandmother who, by contrast, lived well into her 90s. Each gravestone representing a life and death story.
Memorial Day. When we returned to the United States from Ireland two days ago, the flags in Minnesota were flying at half-staff. Even now, I’m not sure what that’s about. I can’t remember if we lower them for Memorial Day each year, or if this represents more deaths from the horrible war raging (yes, raging) in Iraq. Either way, it is a grim reminder of lives lost in service to America. The president calls us to declare the losses of the past four agonizingly long years a sacrifice for our freedom. I heard him speak those words on an MPR snippet yesterday. He was not telling the truth. And as he lies about the nature of their sacrifice, he totally dishonors the women and men he has sent to their deaths. The women and men whose flag-draped caskets he ignores and whose funerals he disses.
Memorial Day. Burgers and brats on the grill notwithstanding, it is a seriously sad time, especially now. Just for this day, I can’t seem to generate the energy required to rage and rail against George W. Bush and his appalling cronies. Murderers, all. Tomorrow, maybe. Probably. Today, though, I wish I could reach out to the families of the women and men who have perished in George W. Bush’s personal war for oil. And what would I say to them if I could? Oh, lordy, I’m not really sure. I guess I would say I am desperately sorry for their loss. That I know I can’t possibly understand how it is for them. And that all I can really do is stand with them in their consuming grief.
Memorial Day. Not a holiday in Iraq, far as I know. But maybe for this one day, Americans might turn our remembering and sorrow to the country we are systematically destroying, and to the thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) who have died there as a direct result of our terrible intervention. It’s so easy to un-remember when all of it is so far away.
Memorial Day. May 28, 2007. There will be more of these, of course. This one is more painful than the last. And so it goes.