Monday, May 31, 2010

Of Poppies and Memorials and The Lost

I had this post I wrote earlier about Memorial Day but it required looking up some details about the poppies that older ladies & gentlemen used to hand out when I was a kid.  Little paper red poppies with a tag saying "Lest We Forget" on them.  That history of Memorial Day refocused me on what is truly important about today. 

I remember asking my mom what they were for and she told me that it was in rememberance of World War I, especially, and the poppy fields that many soldiers died in. As an adult well-versed in the history of those horrible wars (entire generations of young men wiped out by things like mustard gas and chlorine poisoning) I have always thought the poppy appropriate and ironic in a metaphoric way, too.  The poppy is an opiate-- numbing us, helping us to forget pain and even life.  As it symbolizes not forgetting, it is also about the inevitability of forgetfulness because the human heart cannot hold that pain or else it, too, fails.

I think it has been more than 20 years since I've seen someone passing out poppies.  Memorial Day has become a day when people figure they should go out on their boats, burn some burgers, drink some beers, have a four day weekend from work.

The controversy about Obama not visiting the Tomb of the Unknown soldier in Arlington could, in this light, be a good way to refocus people's attention.  My earlier blog was too much about this controversy.  But if this controversy makes ONE person who reads this realize that it's about way more than the start of summer, I am going to be glad.   

This weekend, my hubby & I used the four days to go visit family.  But at the same time, we discussed this controvery in pretty good depth.  You see-- war is very personal and immediate to anyone who actually could lose someone to that war.  It's all fine and dandy to be academically involved in the debate over someone's presumed patriotism or lack thereof. 

But when you could have a person-shaped-hole in the universe where your mother, or father, or wife, or husband, or child once was-- then it's something serious to think about.  Even the thought of it is enough to make me not be able to talk, to take long moments of gathering my emotions.

I am glad that so much of the world has progressed to a point where a lot of people have not lost someone dear to them and can think of Memorial Day simply as the start of summer.  I am glad that we haven't been involved in a "Great War" in so long that it's not actually a priority to have a sitting president be a war vet.  That's, to me, an indication of progress.  It is good to hang out with family, connect in the warmth of the coming longer days. 

But we should remember the poppy's message:  Lest We Forget.  Don't forget the dangers that are still very real.  Humans have not suddenly all turned into puppy loving saints.  There are some bad mofos out there who would be perfectly happy to take away all our choices and prosperity.  And they might even have very big guns aimed at a soldier right. this. second.

While you are hanging out, remember that the freedoms to choose to be wherever you want to be today (on your deck, drinking a beer) were paid for in blood and tears by real people, who really die every second that they are sent somewhere in harm's way.  And that there are some right now who are fighting in a war that they don't get to choose-- that the leaders who represent symbolic functions and political sentiment are the ones who choose.  Yes they chose to serve their country in the military but they were not the ones who got to sign the papers that started this infernal shitstorm. They are just the ones who pay for it. 

It's NOT about red states or blue states or whether we like Obama or think where he spent his weekend matters in the great big scheme of life. 

This day is about red blood and the opiate of time and poppies of life going on that have made us all forget the very real lives that this day is supposed to commemorate.  That person was once someone's most perfect love, and is now gone forever. 

THAT is what you're supposed to Remember today.