There is a burial ground which ought to be visited today. It is broad,
vast, immense. The horizon line of this field runs the length of my
comprehension, and continues to a place I cannot go, not even in my
dreams. Beneath the golden plain, beneath the purple sky, are deep,
black furrows of dirt. It is ripe soil, full of potential for harvest
and hope. But we leave it alone.
We nod at the multitude of stark headstones, admitting the sacrifice,
but never wandering the lengths of the rows. Never dropping to our
knees and weeping on the slight mounds in the grass.
Our heroes have been laid to rest here. We know all of them and none
of them. We are aware and oblivious. In our own daily toil, in front
of computer monitors in air conditioned cubicles, we have forgotten.
Memorial Day dawns and we strike up the Barbeques and laugh and sing and hear the occasional war story eschewing from the lips of a veteran we have passed over for 364 consecutive days. We pass him by until a Monday in May when it is convenient for you and me to stop and think of him.
The burial ground is in our minds. And it sits, sacred perhaps, but absolutely devoid of our own remorse, or if not remorse, at least our own consideration. It's not right. We should visit those plots, even the ones we don't know, and let the facts and the figures of the destruction and sacrifice of our men and women in arms wash over us until we are weak. What would it cost us to remember? Grief? Anger? Fear? Remorse?
And before you claim that it is our right to avoid these emotions, slugging it out in our American rat race at desks and in offices and behind the walls of our enormous homes, think of what you've seen in the eyes of vets on street corners. Behind the shame of their place behind a cardboard sign, flickering at the surface, you saw it there. Or in the eyes of your grandfather or your uncle or your friend or your brother. Was it perhaps grief? Anger? Fear? Remorse?
These men and women have touched war, have seen and felt and perhaps tasted blood. They are affected by nightmares and the weight of conscience and the loss of their friends.
You and I, members of a generation who has only known a war against a faceless enemy, have no concept of these emotions. Our only war has been one waged against the possibility of fear.
Grief? We have not watched our comrades-in-arms bleed to death on a beach, their lifeless bodies rolling over and over in the surf like driftwood. We have not cradled the remains of a fellow soldier in our arms, knowing that only luck or fate or both kept the remains from being our own. We have not walked away from the battlefield, guilt-stricken at being the one allowed to walk away. Or worse, we have not been blown to pieces by an enemy weapon, never to see home again.
There is a burial ground which ought to be visited today and every day.
And it if isn't, if we cannot find the time to press our foreheads to the bloody sod of the graves of our heroes and marinate in something akin to gratitude and humility, then it is time to dig up that ground. Plough through the black soil, upturning the bones, scattering the headstones. Make it a hellish, bloody mess. Make it too atrocious to ignore.
Our complacency is maddening. There has been death, there has been suffering, there has been a toll beyond measure... and we reap the results of it all, but barely find the time on a Monday in May to whisper a prayer of support for our women and men in uniform today, a prayer of hope for our women and men in uniform yesterday, a prayer of gratitude for our women and men in uniform in heaven.
Please stop and consider your personal salute. Patriotism and military service go beyond the bounds of politics and faith. Give them a smile, a dollar, a thank you, a prayer. Give them, your veterans, your consideration.
This is dedicated to my brother, Theodore E. Pancoast, an Army reservist who served an heroic tour of duty as a Marine in Iraq; to my brother Curtis J. Pancoast, on the verge of graduating from Air Force boot camp and prepared to serve his country as an Airman; to both of my grandfathers (Edward Pancoast and Peter Campagna) and both of Jonathan's grandfathers (George Camp and Robert Wilson) who served our nation in World War II; to every other veteran in my life who I do not acknowledge and thank on a regular basis. Thank you!