Remembrance Day: Lest We Forget

November 11, 2012 in Asia, Thailand, Travelogue

Gabe peering into an American bunker above the Perfume River, Hue, Vietnam

Sitting on the beach looking at a steel grey ocean meeting a gun metal grey sky, thinking about the significance of today…

The men and women who’ve served… or cried while others have gone–some never to return– so I could have the freedom to live a carefree life.

Most of the wars fought within my lifetime I don’t agree with. Motives are questionable: Men behind big desks sip expensive scotch and speak of bright-eyed, laughing young men… mamas boys in all of the best senses… as numbers. They push them around like plastic pieces on a game board, standing the ones that fall over back up as if they’ll continue to play the game.

At my core, as a wife, a mama and a lover of beautiful young souls, I am a pacifist.

Ruth & Justin

One expects the groomsmen in a wedding party to be ridiculous playboys.

Happy-go-lucky goof balls who mercilessly tease the groom, wink at the bride and require more wrangling than a roomful of toddlers.

Imagine my surprise, when, after a quick run through of the “plan” for the wedding day, before a return to the drinking and laughter Justin appeared, paperwork in hand, and asked, “Excuse me… just to clarify… we’re to present at 14:00 for photos… and can you please explain to me what, “Justin, hang balls on the wall after the ceremony,” means?”

I laughed. The grapevine balls the girls were carrying were part of the reception hall decorations as well.

“You’ve read and memorized the whole schedule? By the end of dinner?” I asked him, more than a little surprised.

“Yes Ma’am,” he replied with an amused grin.

Virtually the entire male half of the wedding party was ex-military and the day went off with a precision that was a testimony to their training.

We sat late, two nights running, listening to stories and ribald jokes. They all had twinkly eyes and ready smiles, but scars that told other tales.

“Me arm was blown up by an IED,” the big guy said, “Hurt like a $%*&#”

He ordered another round and talk turned to why some guys come home and completely lose it, unable to reintegrate, beat their wives or are stuck in self destructive spirals… and why others can pick up the strands of what they’ve got left, find a partner, build a family, carry their heavy load and “soldier on,” as it were.

“I can’t speak for others, but I live on for them. I live on for me mates, the blokes who can’t, you know? I owe that to them. I’ve done some terrible things, we both have, eh mate?”  He exchanged a knowing look with a black haired, blue eyed fellow with dimples a mile deep.

“I’ll have to answer for those things. In my soul I know that, but I’m doing my best to live another life now. To live for myself, my family, me mates.”

The men tipped their glasses. The subject changed. Someone made a joke.

In another generation, these men would have been my grandfathers.

Tim posted this on his wall in advance of Remembrance Day, in Canada, Veteran’s Day in the USA:

“It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country, in defense of us, in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray haired. But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives — the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for our country, for us. And all we can do is remember.”

– President Ronald Reagan
It’s an odd thing indeed.

Something I struggle with every year, having lived the extraordinarily peaceful and quiet life that I have. I’ll not soon forget the feeling of the bone just beneath the skin of one of the groomsmen as he whirled me, laughing, around the dance floor at my cousin’s wedding. A rock hard reminder of a softness that should have been there, but was lost in the war, blown apart along with many other men and their souls.

Today, I sat on the beach and scratched the notes for this story onto paper wilted by the tropical damp while I waited for my family to arrive at the boat.

I enjoyed a day snorkeling. I saw my first great big squid, the size of my arm.

I laughed as my sons leapt from the prow of a long-tail boat, screaming into the deep, bubbly blue. Boys that I cradled in my body, gave birth to with tears, nursed, changed, walked the floor with, rocked through illness, bent my back to the point of aching in teaching to walk, cheered for as they teetered around blocks and continents on their bicycles. They are spinning away from me like tops now, into their own worlds, their own futures, their own callings and passions, they’re all but gone from my hands. Just like other boys, spun from the bodies and hearts of other women have twisted off into the grey and given it all, whether they returned or not, they’ve given it all.

Today, in the midst of  the gift of this day… how could I not remember?