Memorial Day: My Experience Today

If you read my previous post, you know that I just wasn’t cut-out to be in the military. The fact is I’m a pacifist. A pretty radical pacifist, at that. But my father was pleased. He was a marine in the South Pacific during World War II. In fact, as a non-commissioned officer himself, he was pretty pleased by my response to the Colonel. That being said, my Memorial Day experience today was really quite different from a military sort of thing.

We live about 20 miles from the family burial plot in Laurel, OR. Laurel is a crossroads, a village perhaps. Nothing but a dilapidated country store and gas station. Slightly better taken care of is the Community Hall which can still be rented for gatherings of any sort. To be honest, it is a beautiful setting of green fields, fir woodland, and a few farm houses spotted about here-and-there. No one dares to break the bucolic ambience. It is next to paradise.

In the midst of this and were it not for the trees, you could see Mount Hood rising off to the east. The caretaker of the cemetery is a local whose family settled in Laurel in the mid-1800s. He takes personal pride in maintaining it perfectly. Like us, his family is one of the earliest occupants of this soil. So we have family buried there who were buried in the late-1800s on up to the present.

My sister-in-law is laid to rest there. She died at the age of 61 in July 2017. Standing at the grave where she has returned ‘ashes to ashes’, the pain still sticks in our throats. Sure the setting, although pastoral, raises melancholia within us. For next to her is the plot we own.

The melancholia, of course, is mingled with grief. For few of us can face our own mortality with equanimity, no matter how bold we may be able to pretend. I have spent too many days and nights sitting besides the dying to be convinced otherwise. Oh sure, there comes a point where many give in to the inevitable but I would hardly call this tranquility. Unless we happen to die in our sleep, most of us will indeed experience some fear.

I believe that the contents of this post is exactly why most Americans prefer to put the boat in the water and barbecue burgers and hot dogs in the afternoon and celebrate the unofficial start of summer giving passing nods to those who have gone before, whether military dead or family dead. Other cultures are much better at this than Americans are. Witness the Day of the Dead on November 2 in Mexico. Very healthy but considered morbid by many of us who would rather dock the boat and eat a burger.

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