Monday, May 27, 2013

Remember the Dead. Love the Living.

Many years ago my family was visiting friends on Memorial Day. My youngest child was an infant; the older one was 2. My friends' sons were marching in her small midwestern town's Memorial Day parade. Another visitor offered to stay at the house with the baby while the rest of us went to the parade -- which she viewed as a glorification of war.

It can be seen like that. Or it can be a day off from work, the start of the summer season, a day for picnics and parks and beaches and beer.

Two decades later, I'm struck by the ages of the war dead, how much life I've lived in the years beyond the ones they attained.

Sit quietly and contemplate:

Death is real. It comes without warning.
This body will be a corpse.

Feel whatever comes up for you.

Contemplate that those who died serving in wars were human, just like you. And that while they may have had more warning that death was near, given the conditions they were in, they hoped as much as you do that it would not come today. Their families hoped that they would come home alive, not in a coffin, not in pieces.

This human life is precious: Yours, mine, theirs, everyone's. Can you see that in the faces you meet today? Let the knowledge of death open your heart to the living.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a touching article about preparing the war dead for their funerals.
Sergeant Deynes began putting the final touches on Captain Blanchard’s uniform immediately after it returned from the base tailor, who had sewn captain’s bars onto the jacket shoulders and purple and gold aviator braids onto the sleeves — three inches above the bottom, to be exact. The sergeant starched and pressed a white shirt, ironed a crease into the pants, steamed wrinkles out of the jacket and then rolled a lint remover over all of it, twice.
Gently, he laid the pieces onto a padded table. Black socks protruded from the pants and white gloves from the sleeves. The funeral would be a closed coffin, but it all still had to look right.
“They are not going to see it,” he said. “I do it for myself.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
And here is Wilfred Owen's World War I poem, Dulce Et Dedorum Est
(The words mean "It is sweet and right to die for your country")

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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