Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013, An Opportunity for Peace

Memorial Day is a reminder, a release and a reconciliation opportunity.  I first knew it as Decoration Day when my grandmother and other women would decorate the graves of veterans and other deceased persons, mostly relatives.  Three miles from the Dayton Veterans Administration Health Center and Hospital was my childhood home, which kept me aware of veterans and their graves.  Thousands of identical appearing headstones with perfect alignment serenely greeted passers-by.  My childhood sense of this burial ground was that a peaceful resting place awaited soldiers.  The quiet, organized beauty was a reminder.

Then I became a soldier, and a veteran.  Along the way, as a Cadet at West Point, I spent a week in Walter Reed Hospital (as a patient for brain tests- I was "normal") in Washington, DC in the summer of 1966, among those wounded in Vietnam who had brain problems.  I remember how they were encased in body casts or bald from the head shaving associated with their brain surgery.  One man was shot by a sniper through the temple out the eyeball, leaving him blind in one eye.  He was happy to be alive, amazed at his "good fortune".

As a Family Medicine Resident, part of my training included learning dermatology in the Dayton VA.  I loved interacting with the veterans.  Their stories were enlightening and heartening.  Most of their stories didn't have a direct relationship to their skin condition, but a Family Physician- in training is still interested in the person first and their condition/diagnosis second.

As a West Point graduate (1968) I recently read in a book titled West Point that one of the unwritten missions is "To put old souls into young bodies".  At some level, the ghosts of The Long Gray Line wanted us to understand the meaning of what we were experiencing in our education and training.

The heart of a soldier evolves in its understanding through teaching and experience.  Friendship and human connection are two more of the inputs.  A spiritual anchor and cultural insights add to the heart's development.  At the end, when the soldier's heart hears, "Well Done", it accepts the honor, even as the soldier's brain is embarrassed with feelings of unworthiness, since "we're just doing our job, and pleased to be able to serve".  This paradox between heart and brain seeks to be reconciled over the years or in the hereafter.  The reconciliation seems to be unpredictable.  The "old souls" may have something to do with that.

Fast forward to today at a playground near Carrboro, NC with the grandchildren.  "Thank you for your service, Sir," I heard from a mother near the swingset. (She must have noticed the hat I wore with the word ARMY on the front) "Thank you", I replied quietly with a sense of relief.  She had touched my heart with her appreciation and part of me was relieved that I could recognize and appreciate it.  A touch of sadness followed as I had a vision of "The Wall" in Washington, DC and thoughts of Vietnam and "The Wall" again. The sadness was balanced by something and weighted with meaning.  Thank you, God, for providing the balance and meaning.

The fifty thousand plus names on "The Wall" speak to us all about life, love, war and death.  And Peace.  A peaceful presence helps us to reconcile the losses with the part of our heart that hopes for a lasting peace, beyond human understanding.  Thank you, God, for that peace.

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