Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mourning and Memorial Day

A number of years ago now, I posted about November 11th and elucidated some of my struggles over how to deal with war and people who go to war. I've re-posted it a couple of times, but I've mainly let it stand for itself. As I re-read it (which I do often), I don't know if there's anything else to add, so I don't.

As we finish what is another difficult holiday to navigate I've been asking myself why it's so different? If I've worked through a dealt with issues of war and violence, why is the last Monday in May so much different than November 11th?

The answer should probably have been obvious, but, like a lot of things, I was slow to catch on. The difference is death.

Veterans Day often includes ceremonies at cemeteries and stories of long-ago wars, but it's really a day about people who've fought - many of whom are still alive (and too often forgotten). I hope I can separate the value and needs of people with my objection to war.

But death is different.

Memorial Day is about those who've fought and died - not just those soldiers who have died, but those who died in war. I don't like war - and it's not just the typical hatred of something inevitable; I don't believe its inevitable or necessary. I hope the post above and Brian Zahnd's great piece this week explain some of the theological underpinnings of that.

But what I'm realizing more and more, when it comes to Memorial Day, that doesn't really matter. People are dead and they are not coming back (at least not until the resurrection on the last day). With the possible exception of pain-ridden, terminal situation, where the suffering is too much to bear, all death is tragic, all death in painful.

When it comes to losing the people we care about, the why or the how aren't really important. We talk like they are sometimes - we like to think a heroic death (like one in battle) is better than a drug overdose or a car accident - but in the end, a mother or a brother or a daughter have lost someone irreplaceable and it is the loss we feel.

Ironically, this year, I saw many comments from people emphasizing that Memorial Day is not about military service in particular, but about remembering those who died in war - there was a general sense of emphasis on remembering, on loss.

I know it's attached to military service precisely because the cultural assumption is that these are noble deaths - deaths that earned us something: freedom, peace, security, etc - but the more I see comments from soldiers and family, the more it becomes apparent that this is simply a day of mourning.

All death is tragic. Death is an enemy. Death is a terrible thing. I know it's a part of life; I know it's inevitable, but it's not good. There is no such thing as an honorable or dishonorable death. Death sucks. It is universally bad.

I struggle, I do, with the patriotism and the celebration of war that so often goes with Memorial Day. At times it almost feels like we're celebrating certain deaths because of the bravery and sacrifice inherent in them.

Memorial Day is certainly not a day of celebration and I'm not even sure it's a day of remembrance. It's a day of mourning - of recognizing a loss, of naming and standing up to the gaping hole in our lives that death creates, and, by doing so, removing its power.

I have a different perspective on war than many. I have a different perspective on life and death and the future because of my belief in resurrection. I have real difficulty holding up soldiers as examples since I don't believe war is beneficial for anyone. But I do understand loss.

On this day, when a specific group of people are mourned, I mourn. I don't have a close connection to anyone who's died in war; I think I've only ever met one person. I can't claim this day as my own in any particular way. But I do hate death. I hate the memory of losing loved ones; I hate the thought of losing any more. I hate seeing other people experience the sorrow of death - no matter the reason.

On Memorial Day, let's mourn with those who mourn, and let that be enough.

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