A friend from my faraway life passed away this month. We weren’t close any longer. Years ago I made the choice to retreat into my silent abyss and when I exited it I made the choice to shake away the fear of life’s impermanence. I fled then like cowards do, one warm evening while the city lights sparkled coolly, and things seemed darkest in my resentful life.
When the splendid things vanish in the lives of the most impatient of men some of them come searching for just a trace of the everlasting. My rooting was planted nowhere and in that silent evening I left, disappearing from my old world, and walked into a new one.
His recent death asked me to stop wrestling with distances. It was something I did so well in order to prevent myself from returning home. Our youth brought with it serious oath making even as we bargained for more time that didn’t belong to us. We had few cares and couldn’t explain the reckless decisions we made. We felt we’d live forever and believed we owned the license on the word invincible.
Yet when men die we feel sick in our stomachs and weep like children. We wave our fist in the air at our powerlessness. We lose the men we love and the men we respect.
He didn’t serve in the military but was a worthy opponent nevertheless. We styled ourselves as heroes. He stood his ground while others parted from the scene of havoc we drowned weaker men in. And now he’s gone…
How should I remember him? As the ragged-headed teen who marveled at the deliciousness of life or as a feeble-bodied man who knew he was dying? Good health fled from him but I know his spirit didn’t flag. We sprinkle the sea with the ashes of heroes. I departed that small world because I felt there was nothing left for me. Little did I know how my foray into the military would imbue me with some important life lessons.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Each of us celebrate it differently. But the intent should always be to honor those who serve or have served in the armed forces. How can we celebrate and share in buffets, barbecues and the countless free meals given by restaurants across American if the memory of our living friends are far from us? Let our thoughts go to them if for a moment. Our joy in life has been paid with a price.
Tomorrow is a good day to reflect on what a veteran’s service to this nation means to us. But these words are my own. You must find your own words to write or speak to others. Or don’t…Let your actions then speak mouthfuls about your gratitude to them and this country. Don’t let the passage of time leave you with regret.
Our citizens are responsible to this nation in different ways. Yet, during times of war and peace our military must bear the burden of responsibility all the time. Youth that refuses to be shaped or contoured by responsibility will find much of it in the service. I believe we must be thankful for those men and women who willingly and dutifully serve. Like myself, they left home and whether it was good or bad, they left it in order to make this world a better place.
Those who enjoy the liberties offered by our nation are often blind to the means in how it was obtained. Those who are blind will also never know the satisfaction of having served others. Service gives direction to those who are without direction, particularly a young man or woman, who is searching for meaning.
Responsibility gives youth value, and value gives youth worth, and worth lets them know they belong. In the case of the military, they belong to a group with great traditions and deep meanings, yet to belong to it requires sacrifice. A brother or a sister who has worn the uniform of our great nation have given us freedom to stay home. The uniform requires a certain amount of maturity to wear.
There are no perfect men. There are no perfect women. But heroes exist in our world nevertheless. In this disjointed world of divorces, diapers, job terminations, and presidencies there are those who took oaths to support and defend our Constitution. In a flawed world they rose to greatness and fulfilled their obligations, many under monstrous conditions, and many are never coming home.
Some are without limbs. All veterans have paid prices.
There are no “good deaths” regardless of how we try and justify the pain of losing someone. For those of us who are alive we must be exemplary in our own conduct for the sake of others. Whether we are veterans or not we must be bright voices in the din of war-figurative or otherwise-so it will be heard.
Do not let time pass you while your friends, family and veteran brothers and sisters are still alive. For a moment do some critical reflection of how great this nation is, what home means to you and why you even have it. Reflect on the friends you have, the ones you lost and the ones you left behind. Ask why we should celebrate Veteran’s Day.
Do me a favor. Do not isolate yourself. Do not wrestle with distances. Connect.
Story originally published Nov 11, 2015