They got to me.
I’m not, generally, what one would call a “patriot”. I don’t “love” my country (I don’t dislike it, either), as an entity. I love many things about it. I don’t “honor” those fighting in wars; I commend them upon doing what they feel called upon to do. Serving with honor, to me, means being in alignment with ones personal values.
Today, my country, along with many throughout the world, commemorated Memorial Day. It’s a day, we’re told, to remember those who sacrificed in wars to “keep us safe”. I’ve never really paid a lot of attention to this holiday, either in its patriotic or its picnic garb. I was looking forward to having a nice, quiet day at home, and a nice walk; both of which I did have. There is a curious dearth of new television programming in these parts during the last week of May and the first week of June; the spring season has wrapped up their series, and the new summer programming hasn’t started yet. I usually like to watch an hour or so of telly of an evening, and there’s only so much Home and Garden Television I can take! (I watch HGTV a lot more than I can justify, given that I’m not very domestically inclined.) I saw, in my local TV listings, that “The National Memorial Day Concert” would be broadcast on public television tonight.
I’ve enjoyed these types of concerts in the past. They generally include some of many kinds of music. Tonight’s offering had Broadway show tunes, Country Western, classical, opera, and pop. They generally also include a few pious and patriotic speeches, and tonight’s was no exception. We heard from patriotic actors Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinese. We heard from patriotic retired General Colin Powell. We honored veterans of the US Civil war (on account of its being the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln this year), posthumously. We trotted out a few remaining WWII vets, and some from the Korean, Viet Namese, and current conflicts. This is the sort of over-the-top, flag-waving fervor I generally dislike.
“These war thingys; they’re in the past”, I would say. “Let ’em go; get on with things.” OK, yes, there are those who served, and continue to serve, but, currently, that is by their own choice, as my country is not currently drafting people. I’ve had relatives who served in various wars, with various feelings about them. I’ve had some who have sought deferment, conscientious objector status, and even one who ran from the draft. I’ve accepted all these decisions and respected the people who made them.
Today’s lineup of speeches and film clips were different than those I was used to. They showed film of people actually getting killed, and injured, and maimed on the battle field. They showed caskets containing bodies of those who returned without their current manifestation of life. They showed many scenes of disabled soldiers receiving rehabilitation in hospitals and veteran’s centers. I began to feel that those who were profoundly disabled had made what’s called “the ultimate sacrifice”—usually thought of as death. “The people who died, just died”, I thought. They don’t have to live with the consequences of their government’s actions. Those living for 40 or 50 or 60 more years without limbs, or mobility, or all their mental faculties have sacrificed more. They have every chance of living a wonderful and meaningful life, and I believe this is possible and often the case. But their lives are forever changed. “And for what?” I ask. Some government doesn’t like the way some other government is running things. That’s it. Bottom line. Simplistic, I realize, but true nonetheless.
The Memorial Day commemoration I watched included an in-depth story of one family. One mother, daughter, and son. One soldier whose helmet encountered a grenade as he and his driver (who was killed) were on their way to report a suicide bombing. This soldier lost a good part of his brain. I believe, based on what was reported, that this young man would not be alive today if his mother had not insisted. Their story was dramatized in great detail. The mother and the sister (only 21 at the time) gave up everything: their lives; their jobs; their friends; their home, to care for this young man, whom the doctors gave “no quality of life”. Three years after he came home, the man uttered the word “Mom”.
I admit it; I was in tears. The television continued to cause me to weep as it featured musical numbers which reinforced the deep sadness, and hope, and love such situations bring forth in us.
I was going about my business, thinking I’d just tune into a nice holiday concert, as there was “nothing else new” on TV. I’d managed to ignore this patriotic holiday—pretty much. It took television—that box in my living room; that window on the world—to bring me back to the raw emotion; the beauty; the tragedy; the glory; that is the human condition. I’m profoundly grateful.
Whoever you are, as you read this, I thank you for your service to humanity.