Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day on the tightrope

So, yeah. Memorial Day. Every year it rolls around, I get all squirmy because I know I'm going to post something and I know it's not going to be all patriotic. I know there's going to be someone or many someones who object and there are all those flags on Facebook and beautiful tributes to loved ones who've fought and died in wars for my liberty and freedom.  Then I'll think about Wilfred Owen's poem Dulce et Decorum Est  and pro patria mori (how sweet and honorable it is to die for one's country) and how he called it The Old Lie, and  incurable sores on innocent tongues. I'll read that poem and look at his pale, wan face and think about the trenches of World War I and the men who lived in them for months on end, men who knew nothing of the drones that would replace them nearly a century later, strange silver shapes looking for x's below, bombs dropping and evil men skittering to caves, little children flattened in the name of liberty, again, and freedom. I'll wonder why peace and nonviolent principles aren't celebrated in nearly the same way and why those who wish it so are visited with scorn and condescension -- I'm glad you take for granted the liberties and freedoms awarded you, Elizabeth. I'll continue to protect you, a relative once said, witheringly --  and I'll realize that I, too, have been scornful of beautiful flags blowing in American breezes, have condescended to those who believe that it's only through killing that liberty is won.

I think that today I will make my own memorial day. I will sit in this paradox of honoring those who kill and those who are killed. I will stand and hold both, like every day I live, the tightrope under my feet, my arms outstretched, tip here, tip there, creep and then skitter along, the abyss -- or freedom -- below.


  1. "war is never about freedom. freedom is a marketing tag line, nothing more. war is always about wealth and power." someone posted that on facebook today and it had the ring of truth.

  2. Elizabeth, your post is awash in raw honesty and deep grief. You name that thing we don't speak of, that thing of euphemisms like "Peacekeeper." Maybe it wouldn't be quite so horrible if the horror had a voice and images. We need the poets like Wilfred Owen and we need the voices that are courageous enough to point out what ought to be obvious but is so often ignored. I see you as one who lives on the front lines, much the way Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde did, reminding us of what we could easily see if only we were brave enough, and calling us out to step up. This kind of "stepping up" is what's known as integrity. And integrity can hold grief in one hand: for those who died in war and for war as a horror wrapped up in the camouflage known as patriotism. Thank you for posting.

  3. I echo the sentiments of Angella and Verna. Having grown up around a lot of government or military types and with conservative parents, one of whom stayed in the military as an officer until retirement, I always wondered why non-violence always has to be the elephant in the livingroom, so to speak.

    I nearly always experience torn feelings on this day and on July 4th. Thanks for posting.

  4. Patriotism is a virtue of the vicious. - Oscar Wilde

  5. Well, it's a hard day for me too. I don't like the idea of war on any level and when I think of the dead and the injured, I don't feel grateful at all. I just feel so very, very angry.
    Here's a James Burke quote that Syd left on my post this morning.
    "We decry violence all the time in this country, but look at our history. We were born in a violent revolution, and we've been in wars ever since. We're not a pacific people."
    And he's perfectly right, you know.
    And that makes me sad.
    So. Angry and sad. Because honestly, I think that all of the leaders who create wars use the natural tendencies of young men (especially) and the false premise of patriotism (and often religion, as well) to dupe those young men into taking up arms against other young men whom they really have no reason to hate. To try and kill. Or to be killed by. Neither option a sane one.
    Hell. Let's just say I'm not flying a flag.

  6. Love you and your critical beautiful loving thinking mind.

  7. I, too, always feel the conflict of today. While I know my father didn't ask to go to Vietnam and certainly didn't actively wish to kill anyone, he most certainly did and he caused irreparable harm to so many as a result of his service. I also know that those acts haunted him to his core each and every day and ultimately his life was shortened as a result of his service. War is never justified in my mind and will always result in harm to all parties, but the innocent among us more than anyone.

  8. I agree with you fully and I'll walk there with you on that tightrope. I admit I don't put much thought in to Memorial Day, but if I did, those thoughts would be along these same lines. Although I wouldn't be so brave as to post it on facebook.

  9. Don't be too hard on those who have lost loved ones in wars, however misguided/ Even Jesus did not condemn the Roman Centurion (a pretty bloody breed) but healed his servant--because of the centurion's faith. Unfortunately, the text does not tell us what happened afterwards. But the faith is what mattered. The spirit, not matter.

    1. Anonymous, thank you for your comment. However, I'm not sure what you mean when you say "don't be too hard on those who have lost loved ones in wars" -- and I'd like to understand, if you could clarify?

  10. We had the best Memorial Day...we went to the little cemetary where my dad is buried and every year the American Legion has a little service...I swear all the people are 80 years or older but they talk and one read a poem that was about losing her husband in World War Two and everything was just so sweet. They do this every Memorial Day and Veteren Day and I think it is a great tribute to all Americans.

  11. one of my favorite songs as a child, by Ed McCurdy
    Last night I had the strangest dream
    I'd ever dreamed before
    I dreamed the world had all agreed
    To put an end to war

    I dreamed I saw a mighty room
    Filled with women and men
    And the paper they were signing said
    They'd never fight again

    And when the paper was all signed
    And a million copies made
    They all joined hands and bowed their heads
    And grateful pray'rs were prayed

    And the people in the streets below
    Were dancing 'round and 'round
    While swords and guns and uniforms
    Were scattered on the ground

    Last night I had the strangest dream
    I'd never dreamed before
    I dreamed the world had all agreed
    To put an end to war.

  12. I'm glad it's over. The whole day just always makes me feel angry and sad and awful, head to toe. A day, even an hour, to celebrate peacemakers would have the opposite effect. And yet there will not be such a day. Not in our lifetime anyway.

  13. I love it. There's no reason why you can't create something for yourself out of what has come before.

  14. I always thought of Memorial Day as the day for personal remembrances - maybe it's my midwestern upbringing - but it was a day to tidy up and decorate the graves of loved ones. And Veteran's Day was the big patriotic one. But I guess there's some kind of a need to celebrate the glory of war at every opportunity - seeing as how we're in the longest, biggest, most expensive one in history. As far as I can tell - it's horribly out of balance - hope you have a net under that tightrope.

  15. The Pity of War is ruthlessly specific. As all suffering is. Abstraction is crucifixion. Who can tightrope walk in the shoes of those who have lost family in forgotten wars?



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