“The young dead solders do not speak…
They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.
They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us.”
—Archibald MacLeish (1940)
I met Scott’s father a year after he was killed. It was a pilgrimage for me. I drove a thousand miles, every moment wondering if he’d see me as a symbol of a system that had taken his son. When he and his wife met me in their front yard, Mike and I hugged tightly for too short an eternity.
As an Army Chaplain and therapist, I understand the spiritual, psychological, and physiological foundations of trauma. I can talk for hours about how the “body keeps the score;” about vagus nerve response; about the flight, fight, or freeze mechanism. I can reflect with you about the spiritual meaning of loss, grief, and suffering; how they fit in your life; and the how they can burden the Soul if held too tightly.
I understand all this, yet not a day goes by when something doesn’t bring to mind a young life now gone. Ghosts of what might have been are my everyday companions. I will not let them go, for I fear if I do that I will forget. I’m greeted when least expected with waves of unbidden grief. A tightness in the throat. Vision blurred a bit by welling tears. A little tremor in my hand. All things that remind me that I cannot—I will not—forget. How many children lost? How many parents grieve?
These memories, these ghosts, are necessary reminders of the futility of war and the desperate need for peace in our world. The memories, which come upon me not as thoughts but as bodily sensations, have deepened my compassion and steeled commitment to bringing peace to this suffering world.
I serve in the U.S. Army. I support the readiness of those who have and will fight and win the wars our civilian leaders call us to fight. I love the people I am called to serve, knowing full well the dreadful reality we will one day face again. How then can I speak of peace? This is the difficulty of a holiday like Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is not to be celebrated. It is to be observed, scrutinized, and witnessed on behalf of the true witnesses of our human failure to love our neighbor as ourselves. They are ghosts now: haunting lives with the gift of remembrance, so that we will not forget their living—but even more, that the grief of remembering will create in us a yearning for peace that will stir us to action.
Gracious God, Living Spirit of Love, give to me compassion steeled with commitment, that I might become your peace given in loving sacrifice to our troubled world.