Another year, another Memorial Day in the United States of America.
Every year the holiday approaches with only a few reminders to my daily life – the weather is a bit warmer, and there’s a three-day weekend. Huzzah!
But I wake up on Memorial Day Monday to a tsunami of American flag pictures, service men and women in uniform, gravestones, and famous quotes from the likes of Abraham Lincoln or Patton or (insert famous historical figure associated with military action). Every year.
Part of me is irritated by the military fetish in the US. We are obsessed with men and women in uniform, not knowing what they did, who they may have killed or didn’t kill, if they succeeded or failed, or if they even are good soldiers. We simply erase any doubt and put our brain in autopilot – standing up at ballgames to applaud military folk, shake the hands of service people in airplanes, airports, bus stations, train stations, etc. Just because.
I’m more irritated by the barrage of apparent patriotism by my fellow human beings. Flooding social media channels doesn’t make you more patriotic or bleed red, white, and blue more than the next American. Save for this blog, I avoid posting a thing. I don’t create an elaborate ode, or confiscate an old adage or quote for the sake of likes, comments, or retweets.
Part of me is sad for the grieving families, especially children who lose a parent. I could not imagine. I wish not to.
Then there is another part of me that sits in this very awkward state of: well, I really don’t have anything to do with this holiday except to enjoy the freedom to feel how I want to feel, write a lousy blog about it, and just have another day off to enjoy the pool, take a drive, or frolic outside at home with the family.
The awkwardness comes from the realization, popping me in the brain, and leaving a slice of emptiness in my heart — how am I deserving this? I never served in the military (I never had much of a desire to). Not since my grandfather in World War II as a English-Italian translator (not much combat detail for translators of captured Axis prisoners) has there been a service person in my family — except a cousin in the Marines currently (I believe? See? I’m bad).
We grew up watching the horrors of war through the lenses of filmmakers (Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, even Forrest Gump) and documentaries (fake news: there are 34,229 documentaries on World War II). Let’s just say those were enough of a turnoff…as much as I’d love for my insides to become my outsides thanks to shrapnel or fifty caliber gunfire.
Maybe that part of me is disappointed in myself for not servicing. There’s that poetic feeling of playing hero, holding a gun, and serving with honor and courage. Fighting through situations that imitate circles of hell, but you soldier through and defeat evil en route to victory. Maybe that’s why my writings (plugging my book?) involve epic battles of these illustrious heroes saving the world as skilled and venerable characters that I wish to be or emulate. But, it’s not required, and there’s no lineage of military service that would propel me to carry the family name into battle. Necessity, I guess.
Am I a coward? I don’t know. I don’t really lose sleep over it, nor do I think I am one when I get honest with myself. But I can ask it. I prefer to question than to live with egotistical certainty, which will kill ya — I’m certain of that!
So, the fetish and love and attention and fawning over is birthed from one thing that I don’t have a personal connection to, but try to understand is the recognition of an ultimate sacrifice — laying down your life for others. Or at least the willingness to do so if called upon by your government. I get it. It’s admirable and courageous. And I’m thankful for those who put on the uniform.