Monday, May 31, 2010

A Memorial Day Note (Babble)

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.

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