A Memorial Day Lament : We Owe Them No Less
Memorial Day. This is not supposed to be a day about picnics and store-wide sales. It is day about remembering. Specifically, it is a day we recall the losses experienced through war. In England, on Remembrance Day, the whole country goes silent for two minutes - on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Everything stops. People stand still in the streets. Traffic does not move. Customers are not served. Everyone gets quiet and remembers the fallen. Here in America, we have so many fallen to remember. Please lament their losses with me for the two minutes it might take you to read this. Give them that honor.
Our nation's history is creased with war.
The earth cries out with spilled lives,
And bleeds memories of those who once lived --
Our young men and women,
Innocent as new spring grasses,
Devoted to their service, their country.
We sent these children to battle
To fight other mother's children,
To wade through the carnage and brutality
From which we tried to protect them as children.
The same children whose skinned knees we bandaged
Are asked to kill or be killed in our name,
Asked to be heroic, to risk their lives,
To risk death
And others ask the same of their children,
The ones who will oppose our children.
Oh, perished children of America,
We miss what you could have been,
The lives that could have been full.
You left wives, husbands, lovers, children, parents
behind you, mourning.
Oh, today's dying service men and women,
Even as we read this, you are dying.
We almost cannot take it in --
All the suffering of war, the violence.
We are stricken by your courage, your ability to endure.
You do what we cannot.
You face what we cannot.
Oh, beloved sons and daughters,
The memory of your joy haunts us.
We fend off the need to understand how you died in detail,
As though it would bring us peace to know,
But it just adds to our grief.
Without you, there is no lack of grief.
Grief is a sea we drown in,
It is a breath we can never catch,
It surrounds us at the sound of your names.
You laid down your life for
The combatant next to you,
For your country.
And we remember you.
We cannot stop remembering you,
Your memory is engraved in our souls.
We want to make sure that you died for something important and right.
It is our obligation to lose you for no less than that.
They handed us a flag when we buried you.
It was done with dignity.
We held it, numb with pain at your loss.
Later we took it out of its box and pressed our cheeks to it,
Looking for some hint of you, some sign.
But it did not bring you home.
Oh, our scarred children, spouses, brothers, sisters --
You who left only a part of yourself dead "over there",
Who come back hurt in the soul.
War killed your innocence, and you cannot get it back.
You walk the house at night, checking the perimeter.
You have memories that haunt you, of the dead, the dying,
Of the fear that was your life 24/7.
You stay armed and ready.
You never sit with your back to the door.
In a corner of your soul, the war just won't stop.
We mourn with you what you have lost.
We welcome you home, knowing who you are, loving you.
Remembering for you when you cannot remember yourself,
What it was like before the war took part of you away.
Oh brothers, sisters, husbands, wives -
The battles have names - the cities names mark the progress of war -
Antietem, Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, Atlanta,
Wounded Knee, Gallipoli, Little Big Horn,
Verdun, Khanjahar, Normandy Invasion, Rumaila,
Battle of the Bulge, Inchon, Gulf of Tonkin,
Your deaths spill dreams for a future with you
Into foreign soils.
We wanted family picnics and reunions,
Quiet nights and celebrations.
We dreamed of holding you,
Gathering at your 80th birthday party.
We wanted you to be a parent, an elder,
A member of the community, the tribe.
Be with us as we mourn.
This day is not a day for the hearkening of noble sentiment.
It is for remembering, for feeling the cost of war.
It is for knowing the truth -
That any loss is painful, even loss for a cause.
It is for comforting those who have lost,
The mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers,
Lovers, spouses, children.
This is the day we take silence.
This is the day we let ourselves feel
That every loss diminishes what we could have become,
Even if it was lost in a good cause.
This is the day we feel the other side of grief's coin --
The part that hurts and remembers.
This is the day we feel the price of vigilance.
This is the day we remember
Not to put our beloved ones in harm's way,
Unless we are willing to have this day.
When who they were, and what they could have been,
Shimmers before our eyes, a wish that will never come true.
This is a hard day, Lord.
It aches inside.
May all those who recall sacrifices on this day
And, may the day come when the losses of war
Are only a distant memory,
And our dream of peace comes true.
~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also prays at Time's Fool
Image Credit: US Army