I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Lost loved ones and good news

Bald eagle at Lummi Flats
I snagged this picture from "Love Bellingham" on Facebook, taken by Laurie Winters. It's a beautiful picture of a bird we see plenty of around here. In most parts of the country, you'd be ecstatic to see one, but here they are ubiquitous. In fact, just yesterday a friend of mine took a picture of one that visited her clothesline and stayed for awhile. I almost used her picture, but this one seemed to portray not only the eagle, the water behind, but is also a fitting symbol for Memorial Day, which is tomorrow.

I knew I was in trouble this morning when I thought of writing this post. No pictures came to mind, and I perused my stash of them thoughtfully, but nothing emerged. Pictures of my garden, flowers in bloom, Arlington National Cemetery pictures, nothing seemed quite right for the mood I am in this morning. Thinking of my relatives who served in the military, wanting to honor them all by remembering them on this Memorial Day, I went to Wikipedia to learn about just what exactly Memorial Day is about. It was first called Decoration Day and started in 1868 and reminds us to remember those who died while serving in the US armed forces. Although my son Chris died while serving, he was thankfully not killed in a war but instead died of a heart attack. If he had lived another year, he would have been sent to Iraq and probably would have died there. I can be thankful for that small comfort.

It's been long enough now that I recall most of his life without pain, except for that last awful visit to watch his body being lowered into the ground. I try not to bring that period of time into conscious memory very often, but maybe today is a good time. I had not seen Chris since he left for Germany when I received a call from his wife that he had died. That moment when I heard the news is etched into my memory and cannot be erased. August 15, 2002: it's the day when I learned that my beautiful son was no longer. The pain of that memory still makes my breath become shallow and my heart tighten in my chest. I will probably carry that moment of sorrow for the rest of my life.

This is an experience that millions of parents have had to endure. When it happens because of an accident or illness, that is one thing. But when it happens because of a war, where your loved one has been sent to a foreign country to carry out the will of political actors who have decided to start a war, that must be much harder to bear. When I visited the Korean War Memorial in Washington, I was very moved by the sight of those statues of men marching through Korea.
The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces... They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea.
More than 54,000 Americans and 628,000 from the United Nations died in that war. And that was just one war. When I think of all the parents who had to be notified of the death of their beloved child, it makes me want to cry. But even worse are the wars that still go on, the awful Iraq war that has no memorial but has killed so many people, and for what?

Of course, I can tell myself that wars have been going on for as long as there have been people on this planet, but it makes it no easier to lose a child to a senseless cause. I hear people saying they died to make us safe, but is that really true? Can it be possible that it's just what some people say to justify the loss of life? The soldier has no say in what happens but must carry out the orders of those above him in rank. They too are no more culpable than the poor foot soldier who is given a gun and told to kill as many "enemies" as possible.

There are movies that glorify war and make it seem like a noble cause, but I just cannot understand it. I have never watched some of the more famous movies about Vietnam, because I was traumatized by others that I saw because I thought I should. There are scenes from other movies about war that haunt me as well. It makes me wonder if it's better to be given an outlet for one's grief by watching scenes like those, or if the producers are just capitalizing on our macabre interest in blood and gore without having to go through it ourselves. I wonder.

There are other things going on in the world today that are positive. Although there is still (and probably always will be) war in some parts of the world, there are many who do everything in their power to make things better. I just went to Google and looked up "good news" to see what comes up. I found several websites that share positive stories to inspire and uplift me. They all seem to be featuring the same stories, such as this one about the city of Los Angeles converting old hotels to apartments for homeless veterans.
Officials called it a major step forward toward developing large-scale housing for hundreds of homeless veterans. Advocates say about 2,700 homeless veterans remain in the county, despite an intensive drive by local and federal officials.
When I first read this article, I saw that number of homeless vets as being in the country, but no, it's how many there are in the county of Los Angeles.  That makes me wonder just how many there are throughout the United States. I am unwilling to look it up, since I am trying to find a way towards a positive outlook for this post. I'm not going there, but instead struggling to find more good news to share, for you and for myself as well.

Okay, how about this one? It's about how positive media can make us better people. I learned in this article that several studies bear out the importance of what we focus on.
[A researcher] asked 483 students to recall either a particularly meaningful or a particularly pleasurable movie they watched recently and to indicate the degree to which they felt joyful or elevated from watching it. When the researchers analyzed the content of these movies, they found that, sure enough, the meaningful movies depicted altruistic values, such as social justice and care for the weak, significantly more often than the pleasurable movies did.
Well, that settles it for me, then. I'm going to fill my mind and heart with positive stories and watch uplifting movies to celebrate this long weekend. No more wallowing in pain and suffering! I've been all over the place with the post this morning,  but it has helped me to find what I want to do. I hope that I have possibly pointed you, my dear reader, in a direction that will uplift you rather than bring you down. Until next week, then, when who knows where we'll go?


Linda Reeder said...

I have struggled with the issue of war. On a large scale, it is easy to say "War happens". But when you get down to the personal level. where pain and suffering take place, it seems like such a terrible waste.
I'm not so sure fighting wars keeps us safe and free. While we should honor soldiers for their service, shouldn't we be more careful about how we ask them to serve?
I don't have close friends or relatives who have died during active duty. I do have family members who died young from causes unrelated to military service. They will be honored with flags and gun salutes in their resting places. I won't be there.
This Sunday morning we are still deciding how to spend these next two days. I think we will go to Tacoma and try to located a family grave we have not been able yet to find. We will stop at the conservatory in Wright Park for some beauty, and maybe stop in at several nurseries. Finding beauty makes us happy.
I hope you find your happy too.

Marie Smith said...

We don't have the same holday weekend in Canada but I have thought often about our military in recent years. While we did not fight in Iraq, our military was in Afghanistan with your military and we too suffered losses. Every life was noted nationally and mourned. Now we have special forces training Kurds, on the ground in northern Iraq. It never ends.

For this country, our services for our military, those suffering from PTSD, are woefully lacking. If we are going to send our youth to battle, we have to see them through their own battles as well. The cost of the war machine, in human terms, is incalculable. There is much to be said for countries like Switzerland who stay out of armed conflict. Then again, what would have happened with Hitler?

Your thought to focus on the positive is the only way to go, in my opinion. I am staying positive by thinking of you today...

Anonymous said...

I am sorry that Chris died at such a young age and never became a father, himself. There are so many thoughts of what could have been.

Yes, I agree with you. Let's all fill our minds with positive memories and tantalizing plans for the future.

Jono said...

War touches all of us. It is still horrible to imagine what human beings can and will do to each other and continue to do. To wallow in those thoughts would put me in a downward, bottomless spiral. Thanks for the reminder that there are uplifting things that serve us better. Those are the things that keep us alive.

shortybear said...

God bless America

Elephant's Child said...

Some day I hope that Memorial Day (and its equivalents around the world) can be seen as a historical anomaly. Yes I am a dreamer.
And hooray for focusing on the positive...

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

I see no purpose in war. It reaps profits for corporations like Halliburton and its ilk and senseless numbers of people die. So today, I'm celebrating what's positive in the world. Thanks for the reminder!

Rita said...

War is hell and has been with us since humans started to take over the earth. I'm glad to focus on something positive, too. Maybe some day we'll learn a different way to coexist on this planet. There are many people and companies who are trying to forge new pathways. :)

Sandi said...

Focusing on the positive seems the only choice in this matter, I agree, DJan. I've never been fond of war or the idea of it, and can add guns and violence of any kind to that list! I think if we choose to focus on positive ideals and keep a positive attitude, we at least set some sort of example for others, whether they pay attention or not. At least, it feels a whole lot better to be looking on the bright side of living, and seeking to be positive, despite what gets thrown at us!

Red said...

You ask some biggies about war and losses of our families who were sent to war. You certainly tie some things together with the loss of Chris and thinking about what might have happened. Too often our politicians are too quick to go to war. We are gullible and buy into our leaders call to war.

Arkansas Patti said...

Perhaps that is why we need more women leaders. I really don't believe we women are as quick to resort to violence as a solution or to throw our sons and daughters into the fray. I lost several contemporaries via the Koran and Nam wars. When I go to the memorial services, tears flow for the young men and women who never got to live out their lives and for their families who suffered an agonizing loss. And for what.
Thanks for the good idea. I will go Google "good news" now.

Rian said...

DJan, Love that pic! And I'm sorry that today would bring on such bitter-sweet memories for you. As for war, so simple for me to say, I'm against it... but perhaps this is what any mother would say. However, I'm not sure that the human race has progressed past it... or sadly ever will.

The Furry Gnome said...

Thinking of you, that moment etched forever. We know what you mean.

Far Side of Fifty said...

We are the home of the free because of the brave.

Where would we be if we had no soldiers to fight wars. I shudder to think of that.

So many homeless Vets, PTSD is real, they cannot hold jobs...it sucks.

As part of a Military family since 1972 when my husband was drafted, I know that not everything is as it seems...there were many times when we were poised to go to war and the aggressor backed down...that was all Top Secret but the families know. Scary stuff :(

Midlife Roadtripper said...

The power of writing. This post so very valuable as you weren't afraid of your words and thoughts and came out in a good place. How heartbreaking to have lost your son. I can't begin to imagine that pain. Sincerely hope your day continued on the brighter end you found for this post.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, First of all I just wanted to say how much I appreciated your very kind comment on my Memorial Day post. Your comment made my day! Thank you. Now, in this post you've written about another thought provoking subject ... the costs of war. My timing on reading this post is coincidental with viewing, last night, a recording I made of a PBS program called Point of View. The show was all about the military members who return home from war and are suffering with PTSD. It was enough to make me want to cry on several occasions. I had many thoughts while watching that are similar to those you expressed here. And, I can't end this comment without mentioning the Bald Eagle at Lummi Flats. Wow, what an awesome photo! Thank you for sharing it and congrats to Laurie for the capture. Hope you are having an excellent week! Thanks again DJan!