Monday Opinion: Memorial Day

There are those landscapes which are nothing like mine or yours.  Nothing like a botanic garden, or a city park.  Nothing like a dairy farm, or an orange grove.  Nothing like a national park, or nationally protected land.  Nothing like the Chelsea Flower Show.  Nothing like gardens which are protected by the National Trust, nothing like Huntington Gardens.  

Memorial Day landscapes commemorate the lives of those service people who gave their lives for their country.  We live in a free country; the price of that freedom is steep.  It is not my idea to discuss war, history, or politics-I would be way out of my depth.  But I have seen pictures of the cemeteries in Europe, the final resting ground of many thousands of American service people who gave their lives in World War II.  I have visited Maya Lin’s memorial to those American service people who gave their lives during the Vietnam war.  I have looked at lots of pictures of National Arlington cemetery.  I have visited some of the battlegrounds of the Civil War.

I am old enough to have some personal connection with landscapes of this sort.  My father was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed.  Though he survived, he never really recovered.  All of his children knew the human cost of war.  Some of my college friends lost their lives during the Vietnam war.  I had a chance to trace their names with one finger on the face of Maya Lin’s memorial.  The landscape she did here-brilliant.  Brilliant, in that everyone who visits can trace their own story,  bow their heads, leave a rose,  and be comforted.  Someday, the grass on the top of that granite wall will grow over and down, and bury all of that grief. 

American service people are a breed all their own.  They stand watch, so I don’t have to.  They put themselves in  harm’s way.   They protect and preserve, so I can go on making gardens and designing landscapes.  Oh yes, I think about them, this Memorial Day.   

 The landscape of conflict and grief is different than any other landscape.   The landscape of graves-frightening.  Orderly, terrifying, and sad. Those crosses go up and down and around the grassy hills or create grids on acres of flat planes of grass. The vast number of  lives lost, and the grieving families left behind, impossible to comprehend in any rational way.  Thus the landscapes we experience as hallowed ground.  My city has a number of old and very beautiful cemeteries, though few are maintained as they should be.  One in particular has many old trees.  It is a quiet place to grieve and remember.         

I regret the loss of every life given in defense of our country.  But I do value the freedom I have had to pursue the life of my choice.  It is appropriate to maintain these simple and stark landscapes in memory of of those who paid the ultimate price such that others could live free.  It is the least we can do, to honor their lives.  Our service people-what would we do without them?

Comments

  1. Marilyn McCutcheon says:

    Good Morning,

    I live in Canada. We always watch Memeorial Day ceremonnies on TV. It helps remind us of our own struggles and losses. In recent history, the losses have become more than chapters in a history book.

    We have become a complacent nation. As with most of the prosperous, democratic nations of the world, our generation and the one that followed do not question the existence of freedom and are lulled by the opportunities we have and the comforts we enjoy.

    But it is the sight of our soldiers fighting in Afganistan that stirs the national heart. That makes us feel gratitude. When a soldier is killed, his body returns to Canada and depending where he lived his body travels along Highway 400 Westbound. The cars carrying the soldier and his family pass under a bridge along the way. Unfortunately, there have been many of these caravans since Afganistan. The bridge is filled with firemen, policemen and Canadians of all ages who feel it is there duty to salute the passing cars. The authorities have tried to discourage this as it is considered a hazzard to motorists. This has been largely ignored and the honour guard of average Canadians persists and grows.

    The sorrow and the tributes that define Memorial Day transcend boundaries,

    Thank you from Canada.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Marilyn, your story is a very moving one. I watch and read about as many of the Memorial Day ceremonies as I can, even though the faces of the families of service people who lost their lives are heartbreakingly sad to see. Thank you very much for this letter. Deborah

  2. Margaret says:

    Amen.

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