Outside my window, birds are singing the world to life. The planet slowly turns, and half a world away flowers are opening to the sun.
They made us a promise, and kept it. So on this day, we remember our war dead by visiting their graves. Or, at least, we’re supposed to. In true American fashion, we’ve stolen somebody else’s celebration to honor them, and then promptly forgotten why we cared. If asked, most of my countrymen could not tell you the difference between the two days.
Not so I.
Those of you who know me well may recall that I’m not much for calendars. Most so-called “holy days” mean nothing to me, but there are certain things I feel we should never forget. Memorial Day is one of them, and it’s not about a day off work, cookouts, a white sale, or the opening of “summer” to the tourist trade.
It’s about loss. And a celebration of the human spirit. It’s about raising the flag halfway, and leaving it there until everyone has a chance to grieve. But it’s also about taking it to the top of the pole as a message to the world that we will never forget, and a warning to those who wish to add to our list.
The poem above is actually about Canadians, though its message transcends borders. It’s about the horrors of war, and the steadfast bravery of those who fought while the world around them changed forever. It’s about a stretch of land so completely poisoned by chemical weapons that only a few plants can ever grow there again.
There are other poems about war, written by and for its survivors. One such paean lends its name to this post, but for me the brutal simplicity of In Flanders Fields is all that need be said.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
I myself did not serve, though I wanted to. My father and grandfather were in the Navy, my uncle the Army. My friends went to war while my knees and I stayed home, and I watched the news and prayed nightly for their return, all the while watching others in my circle take up arms and ship out.
Our country, my country, has been fighting an undeclared war for over a decade. The lack of a congressional resolution does not change the results of a military action, and men and women who kept their promise can neither hear these birds or see the flag.
I thank them all, and imagine a world where I do not have to.
My own war dead are buried here at home. I celebrate them today not because they served, but because this is when they died. Two lives that intersected and changed mine, and then were gone. Taken from the world too soon by drunk drivers celebrating a day off work.
I would give much to see another dawn or sunset with them. To lend another book, instead of finding a note written by a dead friend inside one while unpacking. To do more stupid things, and laugh at telling of them.
Instead, I listen to the birds. And remember.
Whatever you celebrate today, count yourself lucky that these men and women have gone before us. I feel reasonably certain that those reading these words will not do something stupid and endanger the lives of others, but as a former doer of stupid things, I know how quickly situations can change. Wherever you go, whatever you do, remember why I remember.
And take some time to listen to those you love.