I cannot remember the last time we were stateside for Memorial Day. I never forget the day, even as it passes completely unnoticed in Kenya. I married my pretty wife over this weekend thirteen years ago. She told me I should never forget our anniversary since it was “memorable” and thus celebrated sometime around Memorial Day. So far, I haven’t missed it.
The day, of course, is about something more important than our anniversary. I wonder how many Americans pause in solemn wonder at what it really means, or how many just go on blissfully to the getaways and sales. For me, at least, it brings on some lumpy-throated moments. Maybe because we live under a different flag there in Africa and miss the red, white and blue of home. Hundreds of little flags are sprouting up along main street here in town. Big ones are draped honorably from the fire station. I love that.
I expect Memorial Day this year will be especially potent because of the recent four thousand plus men and women lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t personally know a single one, and am none the richer for my isolation. In fact, I’ve never known a soldier who was lost in combat. Most of my peers pretty much slipped by safely between wars, and many of us just know war by what we’ve seen in the movies.
What do I know of war? Not much. Not much of that kind of war anyway. We have our own kind out there in Africa. But on any given “grueling day” in my resume, I am a pampered civilian compared to the troops who have fought and are now fighting our nation’s wars. The simple act of coming home – at the end of the day, or the end of the week – separates me from them.
What do I know of war? Not much. Memorial Day, however, never fails to resurrect a singular memory from my childhood – no matter where I am; on a flagged-draped main street or standing under the heat-soaked sky of Sudan. It is a memory at the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC. I was there with my Boy Scout troop sometime when I was eleven or twelve. Our scoutmaster, a humble patriot named Dave, brought us there to teach something about sacrifice and citizenship. About responsibility and remembrance. And I remember as he spoke to us softly, he broke down and cried at the wall – there in front of the place where his friend’s name was etched into the dark, glossy stone. And for the first time I understood how one name could mean so much. How war could cost so much.
Dave may not remember that day. I’m sure he’s cried at the Wall on more than one occasion. And perhaps he wondered if he ever got through to a silly bunch of kids. But I’ve never forgotten the lesson. Nor the one he passed on as we stood together in the green grass at Gettysburg. “In this field” he said in the same soft way, “as many Americans died in one battle, as in the entire Vietnam war.” I remembered the Wall, the scope of the sacrifice represented there, and shivered at the thought.
Sometime around Memorial Day, I usually get to thinking about the parade of tyrants who have risen to power over the centuries. And since I don’t know any of the soldiers who have fallen in the fight against them, I think of Dave. Just one man who knows the pain of the loss of just one man. And who never, ever, ever forgets the treasure of our freedom.
I also think of my wife. Born on Flag Day. The girl who has brought me a smile nearly every day for at least thirteen years. Happy Anniversary Sweetie.
My dad has successfully undergone a blood stem-cell transplant this week (from 2 units of genetically matched umbilical cord blood). He’s currently a resident (again) at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York City. He’s in relative isolation, with the fledgling immune system of an infant child trying to take root in his body. I’ve been spending a lot of time with both my folks up to the time dad was admitted for this procedure, and Renee and I are sticking around nearby during the long and precarious recovery period ahead. I visited dad today and he looked pretty good considering everything he’s been through. We’ve been encouraged to see his faith staying strong throughout. It’s hard though to see my mom suffer because of his suffering. Our presence here has been a big boost for both of them.
Renee and I and the kids will move up to Pearl River next week to start working with AIM here in the US. This is our new, interim assignment, and I’ll post some details about it once I know more of what I’ll be doing. My “job” will be something along the lines of an assistant in PR and Development – not much different from my part time ministry in Kenya with the Media guys. We’re happy to see the Lord open this door for us. He’s opened many actually, blessing us more than we expected – and certainly more than we deserve.