Memorial Day offers us an opportunity to honor those who have died in the course of defending our community. We tend to think of this in terms of members of the military. I would also include those who defend our neighborhoods and communities at risk to themselves: police officers, firefighters, and paramedics…
But what is it we honor on this day of remembrance? We are not honoring or glorifying war itself (as the Spartans did), or violence as an ultimate form of power. I would suggest that what we honor is the spirit of sacrifice and suffering on behalf of others. Some have referred to the “ultimate sacrifice,” death. I am not sure however, that this is the ultimate loss. There are other losses that are equally devastating: the loss of our humanity, the loss of hope, the loss of peace.
Other sacrifices that occur as a consequence of defending community are equally profound. I think of soldiers, sailors, marines, and aviators returning from engagement suffering posttraumatic stress disorder (from being under constant threat to exposure to the intimate and repeated loss of life…) causing alienation from self, family and friends. Steve Buscemi (an actor who was a former NY firefighter) released a documentary recently recounting the health and emotional issues of the firefighters who battled the 911 twin towers fires. Our police officers often contend with the hardening and isolation that come from facing human conflicts on a daily basis. I don’t think I can even imagine the terror of non-lethal trauma inherent in capture, incarceration and torture.
This weekend we honor those who boldly step into theaters of risk on our behalf and well-being. Honoring is not just a ceremony performed at a graveside or a salute to the brave or a lovely photomontage with inspiring music in the background. Honoring is making sure that resources are available for recovery, that jobs and training are arranged during transitions, that families are provided for and loved. Honoring is inquiring how people are, what would help and making sure that when people are asked to act on our behalf, we have undertaken every effort to pursue other channels of resolution.
To all who serve, we offer our thanks.