On Saturday I attended the memorial service for a dear friend who was musically brilliant, deeply spiritual, and self-sacrificing. Sober for almost 33 years, he gave several hours a week to working with men just emerging from active addiction. I never heard of him saying No when one of these men asked for help. More than once, however, I heard him say, “God doesn’t want my ability. He wants my availability.”
And today is Memorial Day, a day of honoring the men and women who lost their lives in service to our country.
So this day is a reminder of the terrible presence of absence.
It’s also a reminder to be grateful. My father, two uncles, and my grandfather all served in the army. Only my father never went to war. And all came home, though one remained broken by the experience of battle until his death several years ago.
As I was growing up, loss was something to be borne, not discussed. For many years, all I knew was that Uncle Fred lived somewhere else, though the VA hospital was mentioned from time to time. My aunt, ever practical and matter-of-fact, had to get on with her life, returning to live with my widowed grandfather, putting food on the table, raising three children in rural Alabama. Only when I was a teenager and spent summer days sitting with him while my aunt was at work, did I realize the cost borne by my family.
My grandfather in his dementia would wander the house for hours, pacing from door to window to door, peering out with watery eyes. Sometimes he worried that Uncle Fred had come back to threaten them all with a gun, as he had before he was sent away. Sometimes he worried it was Germans. The past for my grandfather had become present, and I was at a loss to know how to help him. Even when I took his hand and told him who I was and what year it was, his mind remained locked on a battlefield or in the terrible days when “shell shock” was a moral failing rather than a biochemical, brain-changing condition.
And yet they were not considered the fallen, at least not as Memorial Day formally commemorates.
Still, the raising and lowering of the flag seems to remember something is always lost in war. When the flag is raised on Memorial Day, it’s raised quickly, then slowly, mournfully, it is lowered to half-staff in honor of the dead. At noon, it’s raised to full-staff as a reminder that the sacrifice has not been in vain, that the flag will be carried on by the living, that the fight to remain free will continue.
The freedoms won by those who sacrificed their lives were not just the freedom to take off for a long weekend, or the freedom to choose between five different brands of ketchup, or the freedom to buy the 500-channel entertainment package. Rather, the freedoms won are primarily those that come also with responsibility: to vote, to engage in civic life that is the blood and sinew of our civilization, to care for others in our community, to respect our fellow citizens whose views are as worthy of regard as our own.
For all these things, I am grateful. I am grateful for the life sacrifices of the dead service men and women; grateful for those who, called into service for their country, survived battle and yet have still sacrificed something immeasurable; grateful for those who have served and continue to serve their communities with their most precious possession: time.
God asked not for their ability, but for their availability, and they said Yes.
Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.