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QUINTESSENCE

Memories on Memorial Day Revisited

And still it is not enough, to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the immense patience to wait till they are come again. For the memories themselves are still nothing. Not till they have turned to blood within us, to glance and gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves - not till then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.
- Rainer Maria Rilke

A year ago at this time on Memorial Day Weekend, I wrote an essay on this blog about the power of memory. Memorial Day is for some a weekend that kicks off the summer holidays, and for others, about remembering the loved and lost, and most especially, the honor and courage of our soldiers. Here is that original essay from last year, and then I will update the year for you at the end. Enjoy!

My husband is buried above the wild and tumultuous Spokane River, down from the high train trestle bridges we call the "wishing trains" because we so often whisper secret wishes as we cross under the train cars suspended high above. They thunder overhead on their way across the continental U.S., great diesels hauling container goods, crops, oil and chemicals, slatted stock cars swaying down the tracks before they disappear through granite cuts into narrow pine valleys. My husband quite liked the idea that he would have a view of the river and the trains. Nature and commerce. Chaos and fortune. Our lives are ruled by them.

Today, cemetery breezes wave ribbons of color along narrow paths that are lined with the stars and stripes. Families with lost looks on their faces and clutching plot grids, wander the acres under the ponderosa, looking for the buried but not forgotten. Children's hands are tucked in those of parents - in the little fists more small flags, bouquets of lilacs. America does not forget its loved ones. It does not forget its soldiers. The green shade seem to be a continuous sea of monuments. A new engraved stone, a simple bench, stands next to my husband's - a nineteen year old boy, lost in Afghanistan. Somebody's son, someone's brother. There were two flags flying in his honor, and the gift of a baseball mitt. Was it his, I wonder.

Bending low, I place a flag in the ground a boot length away from my husband's marker. A Vietnam era Air Force Veteran, Ken was proud of his service. He met men in those years who became friends and mentors. I couldn't help but think of our own boy, now twenty, at the US Naval Academy. His life is at a crux point as well. What direction will it turn? How will he think of his service, years from now? National service opens us to community beyond family - opens us to the identity we share as Americans. Whether serving in the military services, the Peace Corps, Teach for America, the USO, the Red Cross - take a moment to thank the next young or old person you meet giving of themselves to all of America.

This fall my daughter will run her first half-marathon for Team USO - proud of our soldiers, her brother, her father, and all those whose names she does not know who came before her and follow her now. Service requires only that we show up, hands open and ready to do whatever work needs doing. Let the poems of your memories carry the day.

As I think of my son and how proud his father would be of him, as I wonder about his future, I think of Eric Greitens, the decorated Navy war hero and author of "The Heart and the Fist - The Education of a Humanitarian, The Making of a Seal." Eric penned a personal note to my son on the title page - "Follow your heart and continue to live with courage." Words that might inspire us all I think.


That was May, 2011. And now it is May, 2012. How right Eric was! The months after writing those words have been difficult and, unexpectedly rewarding. For my son, a challenging illness at the beginning of his junior year at the Naval Academy lead to an honorable medical separation from the Navy. He had just signed the upperclassman's seven year commitment to serve, and instead found himself unexpectedly lost - the Academy dream, his friends, his education, his health... interrupted, perhaps broken. In the face of disaster, this young man "walked the talk": He had the courage to follow his heart, redefine his dreams, kept his old friends as well as made new. He has recovered his health, completed an interim semester of classes, earned a prestigious internship at a national science lab, and matriculated to Stanford University, continuing in his intended major. His year has been about accepting loss, finding center, and moving forward. He has grown up a resourceful man, dealing with life in its complete unpredictability.

My daughter has successfully completed 5 half-marathons now, and was recently asked by Team USO to run the 2012 Washington DC Marine Corp Marathon and the 2013 New York City Marathon in support of the USO once again. She will begin her medical education at the University of Washington Medical School in August. Her year has been about setting goals that were big reaches (distance running) and making wise long-term life choices (which medical schools reflect her goals, budget and intentions?). And becoming an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church Monastery, she married my sweetheart Greg and I on Haleakala Crater on Maui this past April. A big year!

There is an old saying that we never forget the ones we love when we love anew, we simply add more room in the heart. I am happy to have found love again, and happy with the memories of all that has come before. Memories are the foundation of the soul. And so I take a moment this weekend to celebrate and revisit the wonder of life and all its surprises.

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