Monday, May 31, 2010

Remember: Some Scattered Thoughts On Memorial Day

I love Memorial Day - and not just because it usually includes barbecues. I've always loved going to the cemetery to put flowers on my great-grandparents' graves, and later on my grandparents' graves. It's one of those reflection kinds of days that makes me think about where I come from.

I'm fascinated by cemeteries because they're so full of stories about people's lives. I remember going to one as a teenager and finding a headstone for a family who lost something like seven children before they reached the age of three. I always ache for the wives or husbands who lived for 30 years after their spouse passed away. I try to think about the people who have passed on and the people they left behind.

I spent some time in Europe taking a class about World War I. We visited several military cemeteries, including some that were entirely full of unknown soldiers. It breaks my heart to think about the families who never really knew what happened to their loved ones because they were only identified as missing.

The other day I was wandering around Columbus, IN and found this amazing war memorial. It had about 25 pillars, and on each one there were names of people who had been killed in wars in the past hundred years. Some of the pillars also had letters from soldiers to their families, followed by their death date. It was such a powerful way to think about the tragedy of war to see a letter about how excited one boy was to drive his new car when he got home, followed by a death date a few days later. There's something about last letters and last words that makes them hang in the air in a very special way.

There's a collection of poems I love called The Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. It's entirely a collection of epitaphs, and taken together, all of these snippets of people's lives give you the full picture of life in a small town. This has always been my favorite because it's so full of the simple wonder of an ordinary life.

Lucinda Matlock

I went to the dances at Chandlerville,
And played snap-out at Winchester.
One time we changed partners,
Driving home in the moonlight of middle June,
And then I found Davis.
We were married and lived together for seventy years,
Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children,
Eight of whom we lost
Ere I had reached the age of sixty.
I spun,
I wove,
I kept the house,
I nursed the sick,
I made the garden, and for holiday
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks,
And by Spoon River gathering many a shell,
And many a flower and medicinal weed--
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys.
At ninety--six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you--
It takes life to love Life.

I'm not really sure what all of these thoughts mean together. I think I just want to say that it's important to me to remember those who have died. It reminds me that I want to live well.

1 comment:

LifeAsABox said...

I want to go read some Wilfred Owen now. Very lovely post and much more reflective about Memorial Day than I have ever been.