Dearest Rachel –
This isn’t the day for me to be dwelling on having lost you – at least, no more than any other day. There are others who are supposed to be honored today, none of whom I know –or rather, have known – personally.
It’s only recently that the difference between today and Veteran’s Day was made clear to me. The latter is specifically geared toward those who served our country and are still around to tell the tale. Memorial Day, by contrast – and it really should be clear from the name – is meant to honor those whose gave ‘the last full measure of devotion’ for their country. Essentially, one honors the living, and the other, the dead.
As I understand it, it’s not even exclusively reserved for servicemen, although most of the honorees are among that august group. I think that, at least since 9/11, fallen first responders and the like are also counted among those being memorialized (probably due to the fact that that particular incident was, for all intents and purposes, the opening salvo of a war in and of itself, if a terrifyingly asymmetrical one). These are people who, in their deaths gave themselves up to a greater cause than themselves; in service to their country, or to save other lives at the cost of their own. Their deaths meant something; a contribution to a greater good.
In the past sixteen months, it’s been made clear to me that we are all subject to mortality. We will all die someday. We all know this in the back of our minds, but just as we often find ourselves assuming the current status quo will persist forever, we have a great amount of difficulty visualizing that fact being visited upon us. I’d often asserted that every high school yearbook needed at least one photograph with dates below the name; a reminder to an age group that most considers themselves virtually immortal of how mistaken that assumption truly is. For me, that was Petra Weiss; for you, there was Duncan… agh, I can’t remember his name, but I remember the story you told me about the accidental shooting, and the suicide that followed days later. It’s not a desirable thing by any means, obviously, but it struck me as a necessary reminder.
In any event, while we all face an end to our lives someday, too few of us get a chance to make it truly mean anything. I hate to say it, honey, but I don’t think that your passing, as sudden and tragic as it was, served any greater purpose. You didn’t go out saving someone else from a similar fate. There wasn’t any particular honor in what you were doing at the time. You were simply having fun doing something you enjoyed (which, let’s be honest, there is absolutely no shame in doing), and somehow, things just went horribly wrong. There was no more meaning to your death than those folks that Jesus referenced in the early part of Luke 13 (one of the few times He comments on what were then current events). The victims of those incidents were neither heroes, martyrs nor villains; they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so were you.
As a result, it seems inappropriate to commemorate you when the appointed moment of silence is to be observed today at 3 o’clock – another aspect of the observance of today’s holiday that I was unaware of until recently.
And yet, yours is the loss that impacts me – and Daniel – the most. Sure, those who gave their lives on the field of battle did so, ostensibly, to improve our national lot as Americans. Were the Revolutionary War not won, we would at best be only like Canada or one of the other Commonwealth nations; at worst, the whole concept of representative democracy would have died in the cradle, and absolute monarchs would still rule the day. Without the victory of the Civil War, our country might well be torn asunder, and slavery (and the accompanying prejudices) would still be a part of daily life around the globe in a legal sense – those that consider ours to be a racist nation now cannot imagine a continent torn between a weakened USA and a truly racist CSA. And while the world wars did not touch us as a nation on these shores as much as elsewhere throughout the world (we are, after all, blessed with the great moats around our Fortress America in the forms of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans), it could hardly be argued that we didn’t fight to extend ‘the blessings of liberty’ to those around the world who might never have been able to know or understand it without experiencing it firsthand. Even if you insist that the diplomats of the Great War screwed up the first peace, credit is still due to those fighting men who prosecuted it and prevailed; and the generation that followed more than cleaned up that mess, in the closest thing history has to a truly ‘good’ war.
And the fact that, in living memory, the alleged wars that have been fought (because nothing has been authorized by Congress – as it’s supposed to be – since WWII. Everything since has been a ‘police action,’ or some other such doublespeak euphemism) have been inconclusive does not diminish the spirit, the élan, of those who served and continue to serve. It may well be that ‘[they], the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful;’ so it is contingent upon ourselves to, for at least one day, to not be ungrateful for what they’ve done on our behalf, even if we don’t sense the impact of their sacrifice in what they did in Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so many other locations we’re not even allowed to know about, for whatever reason, lest some other existing power get wind of it, and decide to retaliate disproportionately.
But the effects, if any, of their sacrifices, seem so distant and remote, both in distance and in time. Whereas you were right there beside us, eyes full of joy, hope and wonder – emotions that have been sorely lacking in this house ever since (Daniel may have a form of hope in his prophets, for instance, but I fear the impact when they prove untrue). Like these more recent servants, you were very nearly able ‘to make [nearly] anything out of [nearly] nothing,’ having learned the craft from your father – whose own skill was more from his art background than his service, such as he was able, in the military.
Those talents are lost to history now – both yours and your father’s – and Daniel and I would wish otherwise. So, while we may be silent this afternoon at the appointed time (no guarantees, as we tend to lose track when left to our own devices), if we are thinking of any of the honored dead, you still will most likely be at the forefront of our minds, leaving me wishing that you had been nearly the hero that so many of those we’re supposed to be honoring were.
Then again, you were a hero to us. Isn’t that sufficient?