Harriet Freiberger: On Memorial Day, ‘let us have peace’
Who are we on this 28th of May in the year 2018? Looming large within the narrow spaces of our own lives, every day’s responsibilities seem to define us. But perhaps we can bring into focus the swirling blur that surrounds us to see ourselves in a different way .
On this Memorial Day, we walk among the final resting places of those who have served in our country’s military defense, a tradition of nationwide remembrance that began 150 years ago at newly opened Arlington National Cemetery.
On May 30, 1868, some 5,000 people crossed the bridge from the capital, bearing an abundance of spring flowers to decorate the soldiers’ graves. Three years had passed since that April day at Appomattox when two generals agreed upon terms of surrender, one recently nominated for the Presidency of the United States.
Across the lands that had been darkened by the conflict of civil war swelled the cry, “Let us have peace.”
Such has been the hope through the generations of American history as it is even now. Who among us does not want to live in peace, without contention, between and among the others in our lives and around the earth that we share?
But days and nights, months and years, involve struggle. Our comings and goings intertwine with those around us. Each step away from childhood necessitates an increasingly larger community with ever greater need to avoid use of force. The larger the group, the more difficult that task.
How do we protect ourselves? Upon whom do we rely? “America” represents an assemblage that protects all inhabitants. Civilians, through representatives in Congress, establish and uphold the law, and, when needed, call military forces into action.
Memorial Day addresses the reality of what that defense requires. More than a million American troops have paid the price with their lives. We who have not fought have no way to grasp the full implications of what it means “to kill or be killed.”
This day awakens us, the ones who send the order, to ask: What would we fight for? Our children? Our family? Our town? What do we protect? What are we doing to accomplish the connections with each other that will secure a life without fear? We owe an answer to our soldiers and to ourselves because we sent them to stand for us.
What does it mean to stand? Who are these men and women who take on the job of protecting the rest of us and who are we to reap the benefits and rewards of their protection?
The officers and regulars we honor today did not don those uniforms to make sure they would be remembered, but we have become the recipients of a powerful inheritance. Far more important than the physical remains that now lie beneath springtime’s green, they have left us a measure of America’s 300 years.
Since our country’s beginning, a widening vantage point has opened a view extending past continents and oceans, into our planet’s atmosphere, past our solar system, and well beyond into the unknown universe of stars. Our military force enables us to glimpse the future.
What we do with it is up to us.
Who are we? Creators or destroyers; protectors or attackers. We have the ability to clarify a swirling blur of hostility into a celebration of our differences. In the words of the general who witnessed America at its worst, but perceived the beginnings of a new harmony in a nation reunited, “Let us have peace.”
Born out of all that has been, we live in what will come to be, move through our allotted years, strata rising, formed as we connect with one another, keep what memory has selected — unforgotten.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982.
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