by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
May 25, 2009
THE RELATIVITY OF TORTURE
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- We always called this day "Decoration Day," even though it had long since been officially named Memorial Day on calendars and posters.
Perhaps the earlier name lingered in my mind as I played the child's ball-bouncing game while chanting:
We knew what Decoration Day meant and we wore red poppies and we memorized "In Flanders Field" by Lt. Col. John MaCrae. We recited it proudly and thought of the long-ago war in a far-away place where poppies bloomed and blew between rows of crosses where the fallen soldiers were buried.
We were children, and we interpreted the poem and the significance of the day through the eyes of our understanding. The sun was usually shining on this day. We were warm, happy and playing off to the side where we could bounce a ball.
We had a picnic and someone would usually remark that we were here and happy because of the sacrifice of those no longer among us "and don't you forget it." We started to realize what sacrifice meant as the years rolled by and we would grow somber during that day of red, white, and blue decorations - first a jopyous parade, and then a bugler playing taps at day's end.
We saw in the adults around us that their grief was palpable.
Our family was fortunate in that during the World War II, my five brothers came home unscathed after having been in combat, fighting in all theaters of war, both Atlantic and Pacific. They are all gone now and they, too, lie in veterans' cemeteries under the white crosses for having served, but our mourning is for the person they became after the war, carving lives for themselves with wives and children and becoming men who did us proud. They were part of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation."
We miss them, not so much for what they did for us but for whom they became. We miss their being there. I'd like to share with them, a joke or a family memory of me as the baby. or a pet's antics, or all the moments big and small that placed them in some closeness to me.
Grief takes a turn - not toward mourning more deeply over the death of friends and family - but toward grasping and holding onto all you still have of them, things you've learned that added to your personality, knowledge, and other building blocks creating the structure of you. I have things I'm passing on to my children that came to me from others I've known and loved along the way.
Most of the people I've ever known in my long life have left me and, yes, I miss them. I trust it goes without saying many of those sharing our parallel lives will miss me as well.
There's a magnet on my computer that says: "Reflect more; risk more, leave something behind when you go." Many friends are doing just that and the benefits of having that philosophy assure that when I go there will be something worth remembering in the thoughts of those I leave behind.
Reflecting serves me well. It's just a puddle-jump to reverie, and reverie is called "absent-minded dreaming while awake." That would be daydreaming but it's not where my reflections take me.
When I reflect, my mind wanders at will, occasionally settling on a regret - either something I did or failed to do. In either case, my mind finds its way toward something pleasant to reflect upon - like how to do what I failed to do or dismiss its importance. Often "risk" comes in to play and I ask myself why I didn't do what I regret not having done.
Can I still do it? Do I still want to? All that reflecting is great - it keeps me from risking something my old bones might regret!
I learned about death from the time I was young and my mother quoted "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant. She embraced the last five lines as her philosophy about death:
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
So it is true in my mind that death is a comfort zone - and with the knowledge that there is a time to be born and a time to die, and that seems right to me. Then Mama, once again, has me prepared to face what is merely an eventuality.