Monday, May 25, 2009

Thoughts on Memorial Day, 2009

As is my tradition, I visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington Park on this day. This year I came early to beat the crowds that also come each year, but the veterans who gather among the names of their fallen comrades were already there. Speakers and sound systems, along with canopies sheltering displays and coffee urns competed with the American flags spaced evenly along the circling path. Scattered among the flags are the black with white lettering, denoting those who were POW’s and Missing in Action. Men with remnants of uniforms or leathers from various bike clubs milled around and talked. There is certain camaraderie among them…also remnants of a shared experience so many years ago.

I walk past the groups. They look at me, and some nod in recognition that I am a part in their generation. Ahead of me walks a veteran. He moves slower than me so it doesn’t take long before I pass him by. We talk briefly...”I can’t walk as fast as I used to. It was the Agent Orange that they said only affected vegetation”. “Yeah…that is what they said, isn’t it?” I replied. We both move on in silence.

The Memorial is set up with various curved walls representing certain years of the Vietnam War, starting in 1959 and the last segment for the years ending in 1976. Each segment lists the names of those who died during that period. Another segment of wall lists those who are missing in action. I go here because these were my contemporaries…part of my generation.

I try to read each name. Some I recognize from past years, and others have the same name as people I know. I wonder if they were related. As I scan the names, I also wonder what they were like…were they athletes or scholars in high school…who did they leave behind? Young lives suddenly cut short. As I ponder each name there is a palpable presence…perhaps they are here as well, waiting for loved ones to visit.

On the wall with the names of those who died in 1968-1969…perhaps the wall with the highest number of names…I see one of those who I know. It is the cousin of my best friend in high school. Suddenly I am transported to 1968 when the war that was an abstract item in the nightly news became very, very real to this 16-year-old at the time. Suddenly the draft became a real worry to me and I began to wonder what I would do when my turn came.

I allowed my tears to flow, as they still do when I write this, thinking of the lives interrupted, family dynamics permanently changed…and broken hearts left behind. I continue on and complete my reading of names. I utter a heartfelt thank you into the air…perhaps that palpable presence will hear me and accept my meager gratitude.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Last week someone sent me a link to a youtube video that featured the song by the Eagles, called "New York Minute". It's a video made by some young people and was interspersed with many images, including a clock and a changing table. Here is the link:

I thought about the changes we go through…some minor, and others causing upheaval for us and for many around us…and some forced upon us by others or by circumstances beyond our control. Some changes start out as seemingly minor, yet as we ponder we realize that even a “minor” thing has some far-reaching consequences and can remind us of our mortality.

Last week I had a chat with my mother. I talk to her several times a week, sometimes a couple of times a day. It was a small comment, but it harbored those far-reaching consequences I just mentioned. I was to pick her up for a family event, and she asked if we could stop at the store on the way. Of course, I said. She went on to say driving is making her nervous…more so than before. I paid little attention at the time, but the significance came later, with the realization that her driving days may soon be over.

Many of us take for granted our ability to get into a car and drive anywhere we want, anytime and with anyone. Yet for my mother it represents mobility and freedom, and one more thing to which she can thumb her nose at so-called old age. After all, she is a young 86-year-old who still prides herself that she can mow her back lawn…albeit takes a couple of days.

Yet changes come upon us suddenly and sometimes very softly. So softly that we miss those harbingers of more significant changes…and the passages of life we don’t want to think about.

How do we respond to those changes? How do you? Is your tendency one of which to avoid thinking of it, hoping that perhaps we won’t need to face the inevitable? Or do you face it head-on? Do you then blindly accept and adapt, or scream an emphatic NO!

It was the softness of my mother’s comment that gave me pause. I don’t know if she has accepted it yet…or if she needs to right away. This will be the fodder of more discussions later, but the lesson I learned…or perhaps am trying to learn…is that changes occur, regardless of what we want or if we are ready.