Today is Memorial Day, the day we honor veterans who have died. And those who still live and serve.
Last March, while attending a funeral in Indiana, Bettie and I chanced upon the Marion Veteran’s Cemetery. I have used this picture before, and find myself drawn to it again today. Like a good book, a good movie, or a good piece of art, there are depths that can be uncovered on reflection. I’m not bragging – I’m not sure if Bettie or I took the photo. It’s the contents that matter.
The first thing that hits me is the sheer numbers of dead. I have veterans in my family, both by blood (Thanks, Dad!) and by marriage (Thanks, Dan, Joe, Raymond, Sara, and Raleigh). But I never get the sense of large, massive, overwhelming numbers that I get from this picture. Sure, it’s the concentration, and I could see the same effect from a collection of giraffes or prairie dogs. But all these people served our country, whether voluntary or drafted, and they all died. Some during battle, some during their enlistment time, some during their retirement from active duty. Every one of them took a pledge to serve, honor, and protect our country – I don’t sense the same level of commitment from giraffes.
Another aspect of this picture that impresses me is that there are more people – bodies, actually – being added all the time. The foreground is brown because it is fresh dirt. Now, fourteen months after the picture was taken, there is probably nice grass growing here. That doesn’t remove the fact that the body count is increasing, it just moves it to a different part of the cemetery. Just as people keep on being born, people keep dying. Veterans keep dying.
The third aspect of this photo is that the dead service members are anonymous. The picture is taken from behind the gravestones. I will never know the men and women buried here, will probably never knowingly meet their families. That does not diminish their sacrifice, nor their families’ pain at the loss of their loved one. The world, thankfully, does not revolve around me.
Finally, I was struck by the ones who stayed behind, serving and supporting in their own right. Some of the tombstones have the names of the wives carved into the back of them, and are visible in the larger copy of the photo above. These women took over the role of head of household while their husbands were away, and I’m sure some of them took the job permanently when their husbands were killed in battle. There are those who serve without being on the front lines.
And so what? Is there any value in deeper thoughts about service members who gave their all? I think yes.
Wars will always be with us, whether it is enemies from outside who attack overtly, or enemies within who undermine what has lovingly been built. And the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, regardless of who said it first. The war on terror, the war on the “bad guys”, is never over. The killing of Osama Bin Laden, while a good thing, is not a final piece of the puzzle. And why is that?
It’s because we are not fighting a war on earth. We are fighting a spiritual war. Many battles, one war. It’s not Christianity against Islam. It’s Christianity against everything else, including weak Christianity. But we don’t kill the ones on the other side – we convert them to our side. It’s a war of inclusion, not a war of attrition.
One of the benefits of reading Eugene Peterson’s The Message is the fresh perspective I get on scriptures. Instead of the familiar phrase (in 1 Samuel 15:2, NASB)
Thus says the LORD of hosts
we get a very descriptive
This is the God-of-the-Angel-Armies speaking
That helps solidify the military thinking for me. And then when I think of Jesus’ tomb, empty forever more, I realize that every day is Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving Day combined.
At multiple levels.