Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

I spent much of Memorial Day trying to pretend that it wasn't. I didn't want to write about it. I still don't. Weeks in advance I was trying out different Memorial Day posts in my head, knowing that it would be expected of me, to write about it.

To be quite honest, I wish I could go back to the way it used to be. I remember the little parade up through the town center to the cemetery at the edge of the lake. The cemetery was built on a gently rising slope and was a good vantage point for watching the fire works on the 4th of July, especially as the bright bursts would be reflected in the still water of the lake.

On Memorial Day, the veterans would walk by and many of them would be people I knew. It was right and good, I thought, that the men should walk so proudly in their varying uniforms, different wars, different branches of the military. It was summer's rite of passage, it was part of the pomp and circumstance of life.

Now when I think of cemeteries, I think of the picture I saw on another blog, of a young widow stretched out against the grass as though she could press her body to her dead lover's through all the dense layers of soil, and whispering into the headstone.

The cemetery of my childhood was small, easily circumferenced. Age had gentled it, spread lichen over the stones, the grass was dense and mossy. Winding stone walls loosely encircled it, hinting at the sheep that once had pastured there.

It is nothing like the cemeteries that are hundred of acres, all of them with countless harsh white stones and looking at them, it is impossible not to realize that entire generations of people had disappeared into them. The weight of the dead is a cumbersome one to carry; it's not unexpected that as a nation we chose to do so officially only once a year, for one moment, at three in the afternoon.

The cemetery of my childhood is nothing like the cemeteries raw with wounds from receiving the constant flow of dead from our current wars. The families that meet there are no different from ours. Last summer, those families were experiencing a quite different sort of gathering; they probably talked about summer vacation, college plans, the best garden fertilizer and the price of gas.

And maybe next summer they'll do so again, only this time they'll also talk about the unseen presence; the open wound that closed in the grass of the cemetery but has yet to in their hearts. After all, their beloved missing died so that the front line could be kept far away from the rest of us, so that we wouldn't lose any more of our city skylines, so that we could celebrate the summer.


Caitlin said...

You write so beautifully.

It's interesting how different Memorial Day is for me now that Rob's been in Iraq. Those images of the widows in the cemeteries literally take my breath away.

Hope you had a great day.

Post Tenebras Lux said...

Today has been so hard, yes? I felt like every shot of the salute broke my heart. Just like the 4th of July fireworks. . . . It's real now.