This morning I stood at my kitchen sink washing dishes and planning out our Memorial Day as the morning news droned on in the background. I suspect our daily agenda looked like many other mid-American households: yard work, house work, work work, pool-time and barbeque time. Our children’s day would also include my husband’s annual instruction in honor and patriotism. He is his father’s son, and this year for the reasons I share here I am even more proud of that.
Each year he pulls out the newspaper, checks the time of the service at the Lexington Cemetery and corrals our daughters off to witness the true meaning of Memorial Day. Depending on the hour of the service, the heat index, and the level of grumpiness there is often a dispute about which children must attend. The younger one - unless she has already donned her swimming attire for the day - is willing to go along for the ride. The older ones are – par for the course – a different story. There are time worn comments about it being “their summer vacation” or it being “too hot”. Each year I push my husband to take them all. Yes, I believe in his lesson to them and usually reflect briefly on its importance. But mainly I just want some peace and quiet for a few hours.
That is until this year. This year I was pulled into the fray: the emotionalness, the importance, and even the heated politics that can accompany this day, by a short letter from one U.S. soldier to his parents at home in the United States. The letter, read by the top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Major John Allen and reported on NPR’s Morning Edition, was written by Sargent William Stacey a young Marine who later died while on his fourth deployment there. Stacey’s words, though written by only a twenty-three-year-old young man, could not have been more eloquent or moving if penned by some presidential speech writer:
There will be a child who will live because men left the security of their home to come to his.
And this child will learn in new schools that have been built.
And he will walk his streets not worried about whether or not some leader’s henchmen will come and kidnap him.
And he will grow into a fine man who will pursue every opportunity his heart could desire.
And he will have the gift of freedom which I have enjoyed so long myself.
And if my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change the world then I know it was all worth it.
I turned from my dishes to let his words speak to me. Leave their mark and lesson. I longed to hear them again so I could mull over in greater depth the emotions, images and thoughts that had sprang forth from my soul:
The image of a mother - Stacey’s yes, but others too through the time and space of America’s wars – sitting and reading letters home from their sons. Then the image of this same mother opening the door to a stranger in soldier’s attire and knowing in an instant that she would never again open the door to her son, welcome him into her arms and smooth his tired brow.
The deja vu comments of both sides of the aisle - and the roadways of mid-America - about our country’s participation in foreign wars. And my tiredness of the arguments. And my flip-flopping from one side to the other as this current war goes on and on.
The thought of a mandatory service requirement – as we encountered when living in Singapore – and whether it would be a good idea for our country, so that all may pay their dues while taking time to mature a bit. And then the thought of how I would feel if this was the case and my daughters were required to serve.
The memory of a soldier who sat beside me on a Delta flight to somewhere, and who I pushed myself to engage in conversation because I felt this was the only way I could thank him for his service.
The recognition of the service given by my own father-in-law in far off places like Asia and Africa. And the fact that he, unlike many, made it home safely to go on and marry his sweetheart, start a family and raise a son who would one day remember each year to honor those that never made it home.
My few moments of peace and quiet were no longer what mattered about my husband’s little Memorial Day tradition. What mattered to me was that my children experience these two realities: that their freedom was fought for and that in order for others to be free like them, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers have given their lives. Even at their tender age, I want this imprinted on their soul as my husband’s parents imprinted it on his.
Because without this imprint they cannot themselves grow up to be someone who cherishes – as Sargent Stacey clearly did - the freedom they have and who desires to share that freedom with their fellow man, here or in some far away land.