Doing the right thing and confining one’s self to bed when ill provides a good deal of time to just think. As plans for the long weekend fall to the wayside one-by-one and time turns on itself and morphs the nights into days as the deep, healing sleep comes in its stereotypical fits and starts, there comes the inevitable moment when one must choose between regret and acceptance. And in that choice comes the opportunity for clarity, for the choice of acceptance brings the realization that so much of what we do is busyness simply for the sake of busyness. A truth is that our priorities are so often just plain silly. Barbeques and planting flowers may somehow satisfy the soul, and indeed such things have their place, but I believe a well-lived life must also include time for reflection. For, in the words of Edmund Burke repeated so often these days, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
Particularly today, Memorial Day, thoughts go to the idea that America sets aside a day on which to specifically remember those who have given their lives in service to this country. There have been so many willing to lay their lives on the line to protect and defend the rest of us; indeed, our country’s birth was, like all births, a bloody one. But the principles that spurred so much bloodshed were sound, and the result was the greatest nation in the history of civilization. With the crystal clarity of 20/20 hindsight and the wisdom to see into a future where men would continue to forget their history lessons, the Founding Fathers incorporated the very best of all that had come before; America has continued to be a “melting pot” but it was Her foundations – our basic freedoms – that have protected us.
Such protections have been a beacon to the rest of the world, and with that has come the inevitable envy and the flat-out hatred from those who would wish to have our might and our productivity while maintaining a tyrannical grip. Such a thing is impossible, of course, and so it is that our freedoms have required defending. American independence is a tangible thing and no outsider has ever stood a chance of taking it away from us.
We have fought great wars in defense of freedom. And we have lent our strength to other countries whose people shared the same dream to live just as freely, for we are also a generous nation. We not only give financially, but we have given our sons and our daughters that others may make manifest the natural goodness of the American experience. We have also fought with enormous heartbreak against ourselves, north against south, yet again and most importantly done solely in defense of freedom; in defense of our simple, basic tenet that:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
It is never really a good day to die. Yet that is the risk freely accepted by those who go forth on our behalf to meet the enemy face-to-face. I have known many of these men, those who have fought on the front lines, those who have watched their brothers fall yet somehow managed to come back to us, and I can tell you that to shoulder this responsibility changes a person in a way that those even who serve in more supportive military roles do not change . Those who have smelled the fear and the blood, those who have heard the battle cries and screams of terror and pain are, unlike their supporters both in and out of the military, in the main quite quiet men. They simply don’t talk about it much, they keep their memories and the nightmares to themselves, but I know that for every one of them every day is Memorial Day.
Most Americans can’t even bear to know how their meat gets to their dinner table so there is a kind of wisdom in the silence of our front-line veterans. I don’t imagine there are really even words to describe the horrors of war, though documentary after documentary still tries. Yet even to me, one who only knows the smallest of their memories, it is clear so many stories of battles are, for lack of a better word, sanitized. Perhaps it is simply just another way those who are willing to take the greatest risk continue to protect us?
I do not know, really. But as this Memorial Day goes by and I think of all of those who “gave their all” so that I might lay here in peace, with opportunity to simply contemplate, what I do know is that I am grateful to them. Their legacy is something that has always been good, and though now the enemy within has become as dangerous as the enemies without, their legacy must be preserved.
To them, I say thank you. However it is within my power, I will do all that I can to insure that it may never be said that you died in vain.