Standing in my country garden, the perfume of blooming iris in my nostrils, I methodically water the asparagus bed while listening to booming gunshots from the neighbors’ back deck as they reverberate off the hills around me. Breathing in, I am grateful that they have brought the violent and irrepressible nature of man into this moment reminding me that it is “Memorial Day.” Breathing out, I am filled with wonder that my species has survived so many hundreds of years.
I cannot pretend that I enjoy the shooting-for-entertainment going on next door. I feel my startle reflex with every boom. The home-made canon shot brings a reflexive gasp. I watch myself become accustomed to the sounds ricocheting off the hills, and I feel something akin to closeness to those who have been subjected to similar experiences though in places without the blooming iris and beautiful asparagus beside them for reassurance.
My Memorial Day, acceptance and care for those who served our country in the military, was formed when I was very young and felt the resultant fear and anger destroying a man I loved. He had returned from Vietnam, where he was a medic, to a country who reviled the war in which he fought so desperately to save lives. He was looked upon with suspicion and contempt by fellow students, as he tried to finish his education at the local state university. He worked in construction, using his extraordinary physical energy to build tall structures that were later burned down as training for the fire department. This cycle of work and destruction was hard on him, but familiar. He dropped to the ground at the sound of gunshot, or the backfire of a car. And when he rose up, his anger and humiliation looked for a target. He was a kind and loving man, who tended to his disabled sister with a depth of love I had never seen from a man towards a child, and he experienced joy with a roaring passion as exuberant as the fireworks whose cracking booms he could barely tolerate by clenching his jaw and wrapping his arms tightly around me. He knew we were safe, but not that safe.
And so I thank the young men down the way, up country where people use the word “freedom” to mean so many facets of “I want what I want and I deserve the right to have it,” for bringing Memorial Day deep into my heart. My dear friend survived the war in Vietnam, but was walking wounded from the war in human nature. For this, I hold myself responsible, and seek out the peace in my own nature when my anger rises against those who tear away at the possibilities for peace among humans on earth.