Memorial Day

Picture1 philIn the years before 2011, I was like most American people.  While I would give a fleeting thought as to the meaning of Memorial Day, Memorial Day largely stood as a marker for summer vacation.  For many years, I celebrated the extra day off with little thought to the lives gone far too soon.  The day has become personal to me.  Phil wasn’t even an American citizen by birth.  He could have retired from the military years and years before he was killed.  He chose to go to Afghanistan to help train and teach their military and their government.  He was there at their invitation and yet was assassinated by someone he should have been able to trust.  In those choices of Venezuealn French man, and the ultimate price he paid, is the very reason behind Memorial Day.

Looking at the pictures of the lives lost due to military conflict and missions is only a small part of the story.  For every traumatic death is a family that is forever changed.  A husband, a father, a son, a brother, or a friend is gone without a goodbye and without warning.  Each of these families will always remember “the knock (or doorbell)” and the sea of uniforms when the door swung opened.  Each will remember the helplessness felt at the words not said or the lost moments because  most were killed far from home and far from loved ones.  Each will know the devastation of seeing a broken body, a body still in the prime of life, broken often beyond an acceptable viewing.  Those families are lose more than a loved one that day, though.

The survivors are often left without a community.  Military families are given the year to find a new place to live.  Not only does the grieving family have to learn to live without the   fallen soldier, they must also deal with their whole life changing.  Nobody should have to make choices like that when the shock and devastation renders most grievers paralyzed and feeling like they are one heartbeat away from breaking themselves.  Even among other military families, there is a sense of no longer belonging as the family becomes a visible reminder as to what can happen.

Even in my mind, I didn’t worry about Phil.  I had worried far more about his safety when he was an enlisted man fighting the drug wars as the  drug cartel people shot at the helicopters and small planes ferrying people to the sites.  I always thought that being in the Air Force and being an officer somehow made him safe and immune to the unthinkable.  His deployment of a year was an inconvenience, but never did I consider that “what if” question.  Phil’s assassination has done more to me than end my dreams for the future, it caused me to think about all of the young faces that peer back from memorial sites.  I see and I hear how families are forever shattered by traumatic unthinkable death.

Memorial Day is a testimony to these lives and to the shattered families left behind.  While I cannot fault the celebration of summer (and I will still celebrate summer), consider the flag blowing in the breeze. The flag represents so many lives gone far too soon and it waves for so many more who know the darkness and sting of traumatic death.  I choose to celebrate life and living because I choose to honor a life gone far too soon.  I recognize that in choosing to live happy, I am honoring a man who chose me and who chose our country. v

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