Grief and Hope on Memorial Day

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There are  signs that summer is emerging in this small Idaho river town -in the sounds, the sights and the smells. Sunburns on faces, backs and legs. A slower, friendlier pace is emerging. Roses popping up bright in the neighborhood yards. That pungent smelling river tree wafting its scent clear into Normal Hill. Baseball sounds and rhythms, kids on bikes tooling around on the hunt for small adventures.

The thought, pride of place, has entered my mind recently.  I have been four years off the streets, and the routines, rituals, and seasons that raised and shaped me are finding me again. I feel like I know this place again, its people.

Their fears and shames, joys and sadness, what values they hold and those which they reject. Our secret dreams and the ones we can admit. The valley, in general, produces warm, mostly humble hearts, a sort of gruff and humorous working class kindness, and I am very comfortable in this world.

It is Memorial Day which has always consisted of a lot of baseball for me; it is NAIA World Series time after all. I also attended a service with a couple of friends up at the Veteran’ Home.

I have been happy lately, but seeing the ten or fifteen older Veterans, hunched in wheelchairs, braving the hot sun, with the younger vets, hanging out on the edges being respectful to the point of being overly respectful, just like a lot of civilians, reminded me there is still plenty of suffering in the world.

I have never been in the service, have never taken a human life or multiple human lives. I have never lost a close friend in the blink of a traumatic eye. I have never served and not seen action or seen first hand the pain of a loved one who has gone to war.

Obama's Pentagon is demanding that 10,000 war veterans, many of whom served multiple combat tours, pay back large enlistment bonuses handed out a decade ago.

Yet, I know the pain of isolation, the shame and rage of trauma. So as the bagpipes played Amazing Grace, I was able to grieve some for our warriors and their wounds.

If you are going to live with any kind of contentment and happiness in this world, you are going to have to find some peace with war. I recognized a certain ache in the younger vets. A want of love, and not being sure you deserve it. A wanting to be loved despite the violence you have seen and participated in.

Many different things can pull people into the military. However, most, I assume, enter wanting to serve and protect this lovely country of ours. Even if this is not true, all enter as human beings, with the same emotions and desires as the rest of us.

Can, We The People, say we are comfortable with our warriors? Are we willing to meet, head on, their pain, isolation and discomfort with our love, empathy and understanding? Certainly it is our own pain and isolation.

I have my doubts at times, we are good at burying our shames and fears and hiding the people that remind us of them. We hide our elderly, our sick, our mentally ill, and homeless out of our site-lines. Surely this pain we often fear will swallow us whole if we dare to glimpse it can easily be healed with God’s love as expressed through human kindness. After all human kindness is what heals those who have experienced trauma, even the trauma of war.

What does human kindness look like? Well, in my experience, it looks like affection, like nurturing, like mercy, like conversation, like empathy and tenderness, like warm, loving touch. Are we willing to drop our over-politeness, our false sincerity and patriotism and give our veterans and others out of our site-lines, the human warmth they so richly deserve? To do this I think we must look at our own personal suffering with a compassionate eye and some warm-heartedness. How can we love others, be compassionate to others, if we don’t love ourselves?

Hobo John here –  I love you with everything that I have, that is my heart-song and the truth of things.

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