Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Days | Renton Veterans' Memorial Park; Orting Soldiers' Home & Tahoma National Cemeteries

Hi Global Citizens,

For Memorial Day I remembered loved ones and visited Orting Soldiers' Home and Tahoma National Cemeteries in Orting and Kent, Wash.:

Grandpa's Memorabilia (above)
Grandpa Fred's headstone (above)

Orting Soldiers' Home Cemetery (above series)

Tahoma National Cemetery (above series)

I marvel at the names, ages, relationships, and dates etched on stones. Talk about a few words for a life, yet those words occupy and so defy tidy lines as wrinkles on what otherwise would be similar stone faces. Most of all, it grabs me to consider the youth and closeness in age of some of our fallen patriots.

Last year, we brought my mom with us to visit GrandmaGrandpa, and Aunt Judy's head stones at Tahoma, and visited Grandpa Fred's headstone at Orting, Wash. Stones at Orting dated back as far as Spanish-American War veterans, and Tahoma hosted their annual Memorial Day event with prayer, taps, the gun salute, and more.  Many people attended the Tahoma event.

Memorial Day distinguishes from Veteran's Day (Remembrance Day in UK) in that Memorial Day honors military personnel and civilians fallen in the line of duty and Veteran's Day honors living and deceased military personnel.

I celebrate the holiday as an appreciation and to remember our loved ones.  I found it sobering to see a nameless stone at Orting.  These holidays are good for perspective.  Perhaps influence transcends etymology or names.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
~ John McCrae (1915)

Moina Michael contributed her version titled We Shall Keep the Faith, with which she popularized the use of the red poppy as a remembrance symbol, in November 1918: 

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a luster to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

Remembrance Poppy (above)
Moina Michael 3 cent stamp (above)
Even with love and sentiment, I'm aware that it's important to know how and why we name people heroes.  Giving one's life shows love (1 John 3:16); with that love comes social responsibility for a society to know and be transparent about why it asks its people to give their lives.

In a world where reasons can be lost in engaging war, for love of freedom seems the only consistent answer, but even then, I feel ill at ease as history, media, and literature show us how a few powerful people call their citizens and children to arms for less than honorable reasons, how media and leaders misuse soundbyte terms and even religion to call to arms, and I think of the chilling ending to All Quiet on the Western Front.

For this holiday, though, for those who gave their lives, what do we give in return?  Name-etched stones, poems, flags, flowers, ceremonies, tear-stained hankies, our loyalty, our undying affection, and most of all, our public contribution to make this world a better place in their stead.

The brave die never, though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men. 
~ Minot J. Savage via

Draw near to people, learn about them, experience and share life together. We gain more and risk less by holding people at heart's length. Relate with people more and so emerge your ideals, and not the other way around.

Barring that, live in the plural. Reach out in compassion to your neighbor. Who knows but that every day is a Memorial Day for them. Hold them tight. Tell me that's the new patriotism. While I want freedom, patriotic platitudes fall short of impressing because they fail to replace people; it's sobering to put people in harm's way for mixed reasons, and it's sad that we've made a political economy that charges so high for freedom. Show me an ideal that champions life and not death.

Unconditional love is not the ideal, but a necessity in this world. How can an ideal be unfinished business? Unconditional love requires a one-way sacrificial effort. True love is shared: given, received, emergent, continuous, lasting. Meaning that those who give their lives show the greatest measure of love in this life, yet why do I feel sad and short-changed that death must be the expression of love?

Love seems opposite the rigidity of stone. Perhaps in the opposing strength love reveals itself.

Veterans' Monument in Renton, Wash. (above 2)
In this temporal life where we know life by its endings, I find ironic comfort in the temporary.

The banner waves, the flower blooms then in bruised luster fades and falls, yet the stone stands.

Who will tend the stone gardens if we leave only stones?

Perhaps a national day of mourning is the wrong time for poetry or political discourse. Perhaps the flag half-mast beckons more reflective behavior from all of us. I find humility in knowing even these grandiose claims fall short of knowing everything. It's a broken world, damn it, and that's our filter.

On a spiritual level I look forward to the new and redeemed life, but do not use that liberty to cause harm. For me that life comes via Jesus' return. Let me daydream that it's possible for countries to get ahead not by war or loss, but by a more compassionate, sustainable, and loving currency.

In the meantime, I hope that my life lives decisive, courageous, and edgy enough to etch into my stone the call to

He has showed you, O person, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Mic. 6:8)

See more Remembrance posts.

With Affection,

Thank you for all who serve,
give and Gave
for love, life, and liberty,