Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Decoration Day is the most beautiful of our national holidays... The grim cannon have turned to palm branches, and the shell and shrapnel to peach blossoms.
-Thomas Bailey Aldrich

I'm glad to be free and to live in America, and I truly respect those who are passionate about our country.  Those who say  -- with time-worn voices, fully convicted -- that ours is the greatest country this world has ever known.

Maybe it is.  I won't argue that point.  What I will say is even if we are the best, we could stand to be better. 

Hundreds of years after fighting for independence and declaring liberty and justice for all, we still struggle to provide it to our own citizens.  And if we are painfully truthful, our work in freeing some outside our borders sometimes ends up oppressing others.

We find ourselves in war after war after war.  We killed to break free of a King's rule.  We killed to claim new land.  We have killed and killed and killed over who should or should not be free and just how free they should or should not be.

And we've been killed in the process.  Which is what Memorial Day is about.  We set aside one long weekend each year to pause and remember the blood shed by our own in all the killing.

I do not mean to lessen the nobility with which they died.  They died so others may live and live more freely.  As a person who follows a God who died for the very same reason (though immeasurably more perfect freedom), I can deeply appreciate their intentions and their sacrifice. 

But I can't help but wonder if we sometimes romanticize war and fighting.  If we are sometimes afraid to ask hard questions about conflict and conflict resolution in fear that doing so might diminish the significance of the deaths we remember and honor this time and rightfully all year. 

Is the fighting worth it?  Is the cause for which we have decided to kill worth the killing we've determined it will take?

I'm not saying the answer will be no, but I don't think it will always be yes.

Is there a better way to fight?  Maybe with something other than guns and bombs?

Maybe guns are the best weapons, but maybe not always.

I don't know the answers, but I ask the questions for many reasons.  Because I value life and have trouble supporting murder.  Because I think that we can sometimes be too quick to draw our guns (though I know many likely vehemently disagree with me on this point). Because I see the suffering of the men and women who we could be honoring this weekend, but thankfully are not.

I found myself on an airport shuttle van the other night with a young soldier. We had taken two different planes in and each missed our separate planes out. 

As the driver weaved through nerve-wracking Chicago traffic, the soldier anxiously chatted.

He was pleasant and funny and upbeat and optimistic.  But beneath the surface I sensed pain.  In a joke he hinted at PTSD.  I laughed and ached.  What lasting wounds war inflicts on even those who survive it.

Rucksack, deployment, stateside -- words I hardly ever use -- were all regular words in his vocabulary.  Driving away from the airport, I was worried where my tennis shoes might end up.  He was concerned about his government-issued helmet. 

We live two different lives in two different worlds.  A point made even clearer the next morning when we were once again in the same van.  This time he shared that in the few hours since our last ride he learned that he would be redeployed.  He was glad he got to choose between two missions.  Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.  He chose the first. 

How unjust that as he was making that choice I was choosing toppings on my pizza.

I wanted to do more,  but I wished him well as we parted ways. 

I've written before that we honor our military, living and dead, by exercising fully the freedoms they helped achieve.  I still believe that.  But looking into dark eyes that have watched war unfold live, I couldn't help but to wish for a way that doesn't require death.  I couldn't help but to long for peace finally.

And I've decided the best way to memorialize the fallen is not only to ensure their deaths were not in vain, but also to ensure their deaths are not unnecessarily multiplied.  To work for an end to war.  That would truly be the best tribute we could pay.