• Posted: May 31, 2010 13:17:38
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Memorial Day in the U.S. is meant to remember Americans who have given their lives for their country, most often in times of war. But because military service is not a common experience to most Americans there is considerable disconnect when we are prompted to face up to the realities military service represents. Buying flowers, attending presentations, standing respectfully with head bowed during moments of silence and prayer, shuddering at the crack of guns firing in salute, looking wistfully off into space as the mournful strains of Taps sound. Strangely, one wonders if anyone would even attend if the experience of war were common to most. Wouldn't the truly war weary rather forget and be done with it all?
There is an ancient Greek poem written by a soldier during perhaps the time of Alexander the Great that contains the fatalistic line: "... mine is but to do and die". I've wondered about the sense of self expressed in those words for many years. Others have too. Tennyson used it in his poem Charge of the Light Brigade. It's as if the self has no meaning except as part of the many. To do the bidding of the collective and die in the process becomes that which provides meaning. Similarly, a mother or father might toil their entire life unto death to benefit their children. Or, gang members may be willing to face death for the honor and territory of fellow "home boys". For the soldier, for the parents, for gang members, there is no separate meaningful existence beyond acting for the benefit of the group. But, so what happens when war is over and soldiers come home to be released from service? Where is meaning then?
At least since Korea and Viet Nam, many soldiers have found the transition back into civilian life to be problematic. They were willing to die for the wellfare and preservation of collective society. But back in the mix they find themselves floundering, without purpose and very likely to be stepped on, ripped off, and pushed aside with never even a "thank you". Most do find some way to cope, often by becoming parents dedicated to the welfare of their own children. But many soldiers do not find meaningful existence after life in the military. Some turn to drink or drugs to deaden the pain of meaninglessness. Others wander.
The image above is of where one such wandering discharged soldier has tried to construct something of meaning for himself, far far beyond the outskirts of life in the collective he was once willing to die for. May eventually that meaning come to him.
And for all of us, may we too eventually find connection with a life that has meaning and consequence beyond destructive fivolousness.
Monday, June 15th, 2009