The radio announcer last week said “Well, I hate to say this, but we will be expecting rain on Memorial Day….” And yep, it is raining. Now I know that this really puts the damper on outdoor picnics and barbecues, and that was my own first thought when I heard about the rain to come. But today, I am thinking how very appropriate it is. I know, it means lots of folks will have to grab their paper plates and snatch their chicken off a grill that was hastily wheeled up under whatever overhang is available and head indoors. It can get pretty crowded in some in-doors but think of it as getting cozy together, not crowded. And even though all our family members aren’t necessarily folks we want to get cozy with, cowboy up, ya’ll. It is raining. And for the lucky ones, there are still family and friends to celebrate with.
When you think about it, it is so perfectly right that it is raining today. Memorial Day is not like the Fourth of July or the Super Bowl. It is about remembering our war dead, and appreciating their sacrificial love for our country…for us. I went to the dollar store this morning and bought myself some new reading glasses cos the cats got hold of mine and now they are virtually unrecognizable. I plan to do some reading today. I am choosing a quiet celebration. As I headed for the store I was thinking what a funny thing it seems to be purchasing reading glasses on a holiday weekend, instead of watermelon, or beer, or tiki torches. But then I looked into the sky and began to listen to the rain, coming down soft and easy, warm and cleansing. It hit me then; the sky is weeping for the dead, for those who fought and died for the ideals that they or someone else believed in. I remembered as well, that many, so many, fought and died because they had absolutely no choice in the matter. As they used to hear people say during the Viet Nam era, when I was young, “Old men declare wars and young men fight them”. And so, patriotic and self-sacrificing or not, all war dead lie in the sweet arms of Mother Earth, many thousands side by side with simple white crosses, many thousands more hastily buried where they fell. Even those who were lost completely are not lost to Her tender mercies.
Rainy days are for introspection, and as I travel deeper into my heart today, I think of the pure wastefulness of war. Yesterday, during an open discussion at one of my services, a lady declared that sometimes war is worth it, sometimes it is necessary, she firmly asserted. As true as this has appeared to have been in the past, at the core of the matter, war is never worth it, not when we, as human beings, have been given minds to think with and tongues to speak with, hands to build with and feet to carry a message. But World War I and II, and Korea, too, they had to happen, right? All I know is that they did happen. Yes, crazy leaders have always given the world what looked like absolutely no choice. That is how it all played out, and those wars were fought before war became quite so doggone lucrative for arms manufacturers and all who profit from the war machine. My own Dad was in the Army in WWII, in the trenches, boots on the ground, fighting, and as a SeaBee, in the waters, blowing up bridges and the like. He was one of the ones who “gave some”, not all. But he came home different. I know from the old photographs of him taken before the war. He had a sparkle in his eyes and a devil may care grin in his early days as a brand new recruit, all spit and polish in a dashing uniform. But I, personally, never saw that young, eager face. The “some” he gave bought him hard, haunted eyes and a haunted spirit. Today they call it PTSD, and they finally know that it has deadly and long-lasting consequences. But back then, they had no name for it as a permanent condition. They called it “shell shock” and believed (or wanted to believe) that it passed. They called a more extreme version of the look dad wore the “bulkhead stares” and believed that was temporary. Well,it wasn’t, not for every soldier. Not for my dad, who raged and remembered and got drunk to try and control it but it only made him even more dangerous, one of many highly skilled and trained killers who would never not be at war. He never talked about the bad things he had seen and done, just fondly reminisced about how much he enjoyed the beer and the women of Europe, the camaraderie and the big welcome home, and the French homes where he was welcomed in and treated like family because his surname was Gauthier. But once, he cried for hours like a wounded animal and told my mother and me that he had seen terrible things, things he could not forget.
Whether you believe that war is inevitable, like taxes, death, and the common cold or not, if you had been there that night and seen my tough as nails, face like stone, 6’2” dark and handsome dad weeping tears like blood gushing from a major artery, you too might question the practice of nations killing and wounding and scarring the Earth and each other. There has got to be a better way, but we will never find that way until we examine the wars we wage every day in our minds. Every violent thought we have contributes to the violence we see out-pictured in the world…yours, mine, everybody’s thoughts. Peace doesn’t begin at home, it begins much closer to the bone than that. Peace begins in each individual heart. When we no longer make war in our hearts upon those with whom we disagree, whether it is the guy who cuts us off in traffic, our mates, the president, our children, or a scary foreign leader, nations will cease to make war. Let us pray this way. Let us turn our eyes to God within and ask for wisdom to work out our own personal differences in a peaceful way. Then and only then, will war cease forever.
There are those who, no doubt, will see this as over-simplified and impossible, maybe even airy-fairy. But it is Truth. There are those who will think me ungrateful toward those who gave their lives in war. I am not. Just like the Great Gray Sky, today I weep too for each life lost, each life ruined, each family being ripped apart, high-jacked by PTSD like my own family was. I deeply honor the courage and bravery of those who gave their lives for the vision of something greater. But I pray for the day that those old men who declare war will instead, declare brotherhood. I believe that day is coming if we will allow it.
Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to graveyards, every one. When will they ever learn? Oh when will they ever learn? Pete Seegar