Tis Memorial Day. For most around the country, it’s just a celebration of the start of summer. Time, then, to get my abs in check, and my tan on point (as if either of those really needed work anyway, let’s be serious).
And so you’re gonna see a lot of Memorial Day stuff today. On Facebook and Twitter. In the papers and in the news. A lot of little tributes in sports broadcasts and in parades and festivals around the country. Just like we’re flooded with on Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or any other holiday…
And every one will thank those who serve or have served; who’ve been hurt or been lost. Thanking them, of course, for their service and their sacrifice, for what they’ve given up for the nation in defense of our freedoms.
I dunno, though. I just don’t like cliché crap like that. Nor do I think it’s really so simple as that either.
I mean…not every soldier has defended anything, right?
Not every who died died in defense of something.
And I don’t owe my freedom to write here, or talk wherever, or do whatever to every soldier now or ever.
Cause the full progress of freedom isn’t just won by those in uniform, but by the average citizen too – in courts, and protests, and through legislation, and elections. Cause while freedom from kings is often won by the sword and gun, freedom from each other is most usually won by the will and determination of us all.
And so, in my years on this earth, I’m pretty damn sure my freedom has never actually been threatened in any real or immediate sense by any of the wars we have and still fight – by some battle on the other side of the world. I’ve never seen enemy armadas at our shores, for example, or foreign armies at our borders. And I’m pretty sure no nation’s invaded our lands since the War of 1812 or something.
And the truth is…it’s likely no one EVER will again, right? – despite whatever our relative strength in the world may become – because of the simple fact that the we’re 3,000 miles wide, 315 million people deep, and protected on 4 sides by 2 allies, and 2 massive freaking oceans.
I mean, it’s just not so doable in a practical sense. And so “defending our freedom” really isn’t so necessary in the literal sense.
And so, to me, Memorial Day isn’t about freedom or about whatever patriotic, nationalistic stuff you can put on posters or type on gifs online to share online.
It isn’t about honoring any person or persons who “won our freedom” in the watered-down, or convoluted sense it has become.
Round here at The Last Broken Home, it’s probably obvious that much of this site is about the Individual – about the effect that the world has in preventing a single person from being their best Self, and all one must overcome, and all they must do to become that best self.
Despite the trillion reasons not to.
All the crap that’s happened to them. All the shit that’s been said to them. The many things expected of them, or not expected of them.
Every friend. Every family member. Every teacher and every stranger that has and still has an ability to effect what this person thinks, and believes, and acts.
Every person, place, or thing that has the potential to change the course of someone’s life.
And so it’s through this lens that I appreciate and celebrate Memorial Day: through war’s effect on the individual – on the soldier who must endure so much for so little.
It’s not simply that people have sacrificed for their country or their countrymen.
It’s not that they’ve laid down their lives for the paper ideals we’re taught in grade school.
It’s not that they’ve protected “freedom” or fought for whatever we as a people have thought to be just or right.
Screw that shit.
Because all the nationalistic crap? It just doesn’t exist out there.
In the villages of Europe in the 40’s. Or the jungles of Vietnam in the 60’s. Or in the sands of the Middle East or Western Asia now – when every day is a struggle to simply see another day.
Cause when you think of it, and when you experience it, there aren’t simply two “countries” lined up against each other – out there on the battlefield.
It isn’t one people versus another people.
It isn’t us versus them, or ruler versus ruler, America against whoever.
Citizens don’t line stands to cheer on sides, as if it were the Olympic games or some shit like that.
We the people don’t see what happens. And they, the soldiers, don’t see us.
And so, it’s not us they think of at all – with bullets flying, and their lives on the line.
We don’t – and CAN’T – matter to them so directly out there.
Cause these soldiers don’t run the battlefield with the knowledge that if they don’t win this fight today their family is in danger of death or rape back home. They don’t fight just outside our homes, protecting those who live inside from soldiers who would break in should they not hold the line.
They don’t fight for flags, or freedoms, or the idea that is our country – out there when blood is spilled, and men and women fall.
Because out there there are no nations.
Out there there are no Presidents present, or Kings, or Prime Ministers.
There are no citizens. There are no politics.
Out there the line between just and evil blurs; the difference between the good guys and the bad guys fades.
Out there there are just men, and women.
Just two armies lined against each other.
Just life and death.
And every second those lives are fighting for nothing more than simply the chance at another second – another moment alive, another day to live, another chance to see home.
And it changes them.
The experience changes them. The fear changes them. The dread haunts them.
…Memorial Day is to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
Not of their lives, but of their Selves, I think.
Not simply of the bodies they call theirs, but their minds – their comfort, their ease in this world, and – to often – their very sanity.
It’s to honor their courage amidst the most terrifying of human experiences.
It’s to honor what these men and women have given of themselves and shown in themselves to endure what must truly be the most horrifying thing imaginable – war.
Because I can’t imagine what it’s like to have lived what they lived. And I have no desire to know.
I can’t imagine the fear and dread. I can’t imagine the feeling of waking up every day just hoping that you’ll be given the chance to do the same tomorrow.
That’s what’s so remarkable about these men and women. That’s what’s worthy of our admiration and thanks.
That they’d go through that for something bigger than themselves. That they’d lose their Selves for someone else’s gain. That they could survive it at all.
But mostly, for those who never did – who died alone in jungles and deserts in the far reaches of the world; who died trembling, and afraid, away from those they loved and who loved them; who were lost, or were never found, as if all they had endured, and all they had done, was unseen and forgotten.
Because what they’ve done is truly the bravest thing imaginable, and the most difficult thing imaginable.
Because you crouch in a frozen, stinking, rotting trench in some far reach of Europe for weeks on end, in the dead of winter, next to bodies you can’t bury, and wounded friends you can’t help, knowing that simply peaking your head up to see the field before you means you might not come down with one at all, and tell me you’re still concerned with grade school ideals of freedom and justice – when you’ve seen lives ended, bodies torn and blow apart.
You march in the soaking rains of Vietnam for days, always fearful that you’re in fact surrounded, though you see no one else and hear no one else; forever horrified that your next step touches not grass or mud, but the tip of a mine you had no hope of seeing, and tell me you come back the same person; that you simply walk a forest or a sidewalk in the same way you once did.
You watch the friends you’ve grown to love as brothers fall beside you – screaming, crying, pleading, bleeding out and ripped apart – and tell me your opinions on life, and fear, and love are not changed forever; that you are not changed forever – made incapable of sleep, of calm, of peace, of living at all – sometimes for a time, sometimes for a life.
You do any of it and tell me it that doesn’t change you forever – in ways you’d never imagine, never want, never wish or curse upon another.
These people will go home and never be the same again.
They’ll never be who they once were, or see even the simplest things as they once saw them.
And every person who marches into battle – who lifts their weapon and fires it at another – does so knowing this…
That they will sacrifice their lives, or they will sacrifice their Selves.
Every single one.
…spent the most important years of his life in the worst place of his life – in the scorching, pouring jungles of Vietnam – living surely in a never-ending fear, seeing and doing things that no person should ever endure.
What you learn about veterans over time, and what I learned about my father early on, is that they don’t discuss what happened to them. They don’t talk willingly about the things they did and saw.
And you just don’t ask. Because to have them tell it is to ask them to re-live it. And no person in their right mind would want to re-live what they’d give anything to forget.
But over time, if you’re lucky enough to be around a veteran for any great length of time, as I’ve been with my Dad, you pick up little things here and there – when they’re reminded of their experiences, when they hear certain things, or see certain things that trigger certain memories.
Usually it’s just a sentence or two in the middle of much more. A short story or something in passing. Not meant to be dwelled upon, or expanded on.
But in those few sentences is a story so horrible or so disgusting that you can’t imagine it being worthy of only a sentence or two. But so unremarkable is it to them that that is all it seems worthy of in their mind and memory.
And that’s how you know just how life-changing war can be. That the horrifying is made, to them, unremarkable; that the scariest things imaginable become something far too normal or familiar to be worth talking about or telling of.
When I was younger…
…my Dad was a much angrier and, in a way, more violent person. In his older age he’s really mellowed out from what he once was.
But even then, when his temper was a pretty constant source of fear for my brothers and my sister and I, I always tried my best to understand that this was a man who had experienced certain things that I could not understand, and that he was, in a way, still the product of those things.
Maybe – in a way – he was the beginning the this site.
Because back then I always wondered to myself – and still do – that if school, and family, and friends can make a broken home, what could war do?
If the stupid little things stupid little people say to us, or do to us when we’re young can affect us a lifetime, what could war do?
If a person can be made bitter for life, or depressed for life, or fucked-up for life because of single things experienced in their childhood – a parent gone, a mother abused, a family falling apart – what could war do?
I’m always conscious, then, that a single day in battle is far worse than an entire childhood in a broken home; that a day spent among blood and death can undo in 20 minutes even the most perfect upbringing.
And it’s this courage to endure these things and survive these things that I think is so worthy of honor on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.
Because war is the ultimate broken home.
And today we celebrate those who’ve come back. And those who never will.
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