As a resident military family voice here on Babble I felt I should speak up today. But weirdly I may be the least qualified because I’m not good at this day of remembrance.
I got a lovely call from a relative thanking both my husband for the
work he’s doing with the Army in Iraq right now, and me for supporting
him and keeping our family together while he does his job. I
appreciated that, because she loves us and cares about us, and her
opinion is one I value. I also appreciated that she attended the local
Memorial Day events near her home. I can’t bring myself to do that, so
I’m glad when someone else can.
When I see parades of uniformed men and
women I experience alternating waves of pride and anger and despair and
I don’t know what to do with myself. I try not to let my children see
me cry, especially when it’s about feelings so confused that I can’t
even explain it to them. So we avoid military parades.
I have incredibly mixed feelings about the pomp and circumstance associated with all things military.
There is no single category of people who deserve praise across the
board merely because they share the same title, whether that title be
American soldier, priest, doctor or mom. I don’t want to lump the
service my grandfather did in the Second World War with any of the
people who disgraced their uniform by committing atrocities at Abu
Ghraib. I accept the gratitude strangers ask me to pass along to my
husband because I know the service he’s doing is honorable and he has
earned the praise he gets. I don’t make blanket assumptions like that
about other soldiers, but I give them the benefit of the doubt the same
as I do in general for many, regardless of their profession.
The people I admire most are the ones who quietly and consistently
work to help others using whatever talents or resources they have. Some
do that as soldiers, others as firefighters, some as scientists or
artists or musicians or teachers or nurses or compassionate neighbors.
Many people who deserve to be memorialized are not and never will be.
I’m thankful beyond all measure that there are people like my husband
willing to risk their lives so that I may have the freedom to speak and
work out my thoughts on such matters without fear of my government. I
appreciate my way of life and understand the sacrifices so many have
made so I can enjoy it. I don’t take that lightly.
But I also believe
that we have squandered and abused the willingness to sacrifice of many
soldiers and it upsets me deeply. Just because someone is ready to give
his or her life for this country doesn’t mean he or she should do it
now or for just any cause. I am willing to lay down my life for any of
my children, but not to throw my body in front of a bus for something
like being on time to school. The cause must be worthy or at least
perceived that way. This particular cause my husband is involved in may
be worth his time, but from my point of view it’s not worth his life,
so I hope every day it doesn’t come to that.
The medals and ribbons and flag waving and parades are in part
sincere tribute, and I’m glad it’s offered. Part of me is suspicious
that it is also there to lead people too young to grasp what their lives
could be into joining an organization that seems to offer them glory
and respect but that may simply lead to death. Every time they run an
‘In Memoriam’ segment on the news listing the names and ages of soldiers
killed recently, I want to look away and I can’t. I wouldn’t want
people looking away from my husband’s name if it were on such a list. I
end up sitting on the kitchen floor crying, hoping the kids continue
playing happily in the yard and don’t stumble across me. Because those
aren’t good teachable moments. They are moments when I’m too vulnerable
to monitor what I say, and my children are too young to be burdened
with their mother’s darker thoughts, which are these:
Every day is someone’s Memorial Day. My grandfather served in the
Navy, but I try to honor him every day. I grieve for him every December
2nd which is when he died. I’m not going to let someone else dictate
when I should remember my grandfather or for what. And many people
grieve for loved ones who died for nothing. War should not be
celebrated and made to look exciting or noble. War is something the
human race should be ashamed that it sometimes must resort to.
As I say, I’m not good at this holiday. But I think my husband still
loves me anyway, and his is the only military opinion I care about. On
this Memorial Day I’m going to go downstairs after I shut my laptop and
make my kids blueberry pancakes. I don’t want them to think about war
just because the calendar says we should. We will play in the yard and
maybe go swimming at the Y. We will read books and make music and live
the kind of life people have made great sacrifices to make possible.
I’ll choose my own day to mourn the dead. That’s not today.