Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

This Memorial Day is a special one this year. Not only am I celebrating my book's release through Nook First, but it is also my husband's birthday. We have had quite a weekend, so the idea of just relaxing on this momentous occasion is first on our minds.

At the same time, I am reminded of why we are celebrating this holiday. In the past 18 months I have attended two funerals of WW2 soldiers, one of whom was my grandfather. Both were given full military rights, and I was surprised at my own deep reaction to the ceremonies where one's country pays homage back to its soldiers and thanks them one last time for their service.
War? What do i know if that? I have a hard time watching war movies because I just can't handle gore. But I do watch them and read the books, because the stories of bravery, fear, and love are so moving. Things happen in war that don't happen at any other time. The human condition seems magnified and open for inspection in a way that it doesn't during times of peace. I suppose that is why I included a bit of a war story in the novel SUMMERS AT BLUE LAKE. I wanted the prayers and betrayals to be bigger than life.
Even with the imagination of a writer, it is still hard to fully grasp all that soldiers have endured so that we may enjoy the freedoms which, without knowing anything but these freedoms, are also hard to fully grasp.
Right now I am reading a newly published book written by a friend, Charlie Schroeder, who happened to grow up in the same town I did. I am not very far into MAN OF WAR, which is a book about Charlie's experience of reenacting 2,000 years of history with various reenactment groups. Right now I am reading about his participation in in the reenactment of the Nazi/Russian Siege at Stalingrad. Who would want to reenact anything as a Nazi soldier? But that was exactly Charlie's question going onto the stage. I am taken with the hardships of these men as they replay the battle over the weekend. Part of this is because I know Charlie and the high school history classes from which he hails. I know of the NPR shows to which he listens, and just this weekend, I was on the grounds of the Renaissance Fair where he spent a summer as Romeo. So I guess I just started to think about war and ordinary people, and how you end up in a situation where you can't sleep for days, food is scarce. You know the enemy is right up the road. For Charlie and his fellow players in this charade, a bed and home-cooked meal was only hours away. The bullets were blank. Death was a nap. But something about his telling of the tale made the real suffering more real for me. Maybe that is why people reenact the great moments of history, to sink into them and live inside of them.
I'll never be a reenactor, but I am a museum goer. This past year, I saw Churchill's War Rooms where he lived and worked while London was being bombed. I like to examine the stories of service.
I will never be able to fully understand the life of a soldier. I don't understand war and why we have to have it. But burying a grandpa, who was a vet, last year and having a son who will register for the draft later this year has given me a chance for pause and reflection. I am thinking about it. Thinking about what freedoms are so important to die for. Thinking about what life would be like without those freedoms. Thinking about what it takes to be willing to suffer and if necessary, risk everything. Thinking about who those people are who are taking those risks. Thinking about the families of those people. Thinking about what happens when soldiers return after living inside a war. Maybe this year, I am thinking more than thanking, because I'm not sure that thanking is quite enough.

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