Never Forget Why We Can Enjoy Today

2tomb-unknown-soldierToday is Memorial Day in the United States – the day we honor those who died protecting our country, protecting us.

I think it is more that we honor the way they lived. The fallen multitudes embraced the responsibility to protect our way of life from those who would usurp or destroy it.  Knowing full well the dangers, they paid the ultimate price to defend against the bullies of the world. They saw there was a greater good to achieve.

Oh, we can sit here and argue whether this or that war was right or justified. And that’s the whole point.

While we munch on our hot dogs, down some burgers, or sip on sodas, we can say what we want about our political leaders. We can protest government actions we think are wrong. We can do it without fearing some goons will crash into our homes and drag us off to jail or even chop our heads off.

The freedom we enjoy in this country is precious and paid for with the blood of citizens. We all must share in the responsibility of maintaining it. We do that by being informed and active voters, by letting our representatives know what we think about the issues, by paying our taxes, by sitting on a jury, and even by serving in the military.

Is this country perfect? Heck, no! We are flawed, but we must recognize this and continually strive toward the ideals our government is based on. We must have the courage to fulfill our obligations to something greater than ourselves.

By all means, enjoy the day. Just never forget the host of angels who have given you the freedom to do just that.

 

Remembrance, Rights, Responsibility

memday2016

Today is Memorial Day in the United States – the day we remember those who have died protecting our rights and our way of life.

We all appreciate our ability to say or write what we think and to live without the fear of the government evicting us from our homes or throwing us into jail at a whim. Most of us gratefully honor those who protect those rights, those freedoms.

Why is it then that so many ignore their responsibility in using and maintaining these rights? Why are so many of us willing to be herded by the “thought leaders” without doing what it takes to keep them honest?

I recently tripped across the piece “Thumb War” by Katie Roiphe in the latest issue of Esquire magazine. In it, Roiphe uses the Twitter storm around Gay Talese’s alleged comments regarding women writers to illustrate how thoughtlessly people comment on manufactured slants to subjects. We are so willing to blast someone in 140 characters without knowing the whole story.

Social media are like fire – beneficial if used responsibly, but dangerous if not. What worries me is the public’s willingness to be led by the short spurts of incomplete information they are fed. So many people get their “news” from Twitter and Facebook which, by their very nature, are unable to provide the deep research necessary for a complete story.

People don’t investigate to the heart of the matter, the kernel of truth, on other media outlets. They just don’t question whether what they’re reading or seeing is valid. That responsibility takes effort.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are rights established by the Constitution’s First Amendment. The purpose was to give people access to all information, especially information and opinion contrary to the mainstream, so they can make good decisions. Self-government is founded upon making decisions.

The most important area of decision making in government is selecting and influencing our representatives. We have the right – and the responsibility – to vote for our lawmakers. We should always make the best decision based not on what we’re fed by our preferred media source but by our stringent efforts to determine the truth of the candidates’ history, character, and personality.  Elections should not devolve into popularity contests.

This takes effort. We need to think critically about the complicated issues and the candidates’ positions on them. We have do more than follow the tweets and Facebook posts. And we need to vote on our investigation and synthesis of information. We need to fulfill our responsibilities to maintain our rights.

To do less would be to dishonor those we remember today.

Voices of the Valorous

Poppies in a field

At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, hostilities for the most horrific war in human history up to that point were scheduled to end.

Then known as The Great War (for who could imagine another conflict that was even more horrific was coming?) it changed the popular image of war as something glorious to something bathed in sweat, mud, and blood.

The poppy became a symbol of those who had sacrificed their all to conflict. It became that symbol from a poem, “In Flanders Fields,” written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian physician.

Soldiers throughout history have written and continue to write, struggling to show the inexperienced a glimpse into war’s character — and aftermath.

I introduced my readers to the Veteran’s Writing Project and its online journal, O-Dark-Thirty, in May. For a modern take on the war dead, you can read the recently published “Valor” by Cameron Filas there.

Veterans Day  (November 11 in the United States, formerly known as Armistice Day) is on Wednesday. When you buy a poppy from a veteran, remember those who have fallen through the voices of those who have served.

Weekend Wrinkle: Write Lest We Forget

It’s Memorial Day weekend – the unofficial start to the summer. Many Americans will enjoy themselves. They’ll catch rays at the beach, sip iced tea with friends, and send wafts of delicious grill smoke to the heavens. Too many won’t stop to remember what the holiday is actually for.

There will still be those who will march in parades, who will set flags on graves, and who will hear the plaintive notes of Taps in cemeteries. They understand why so many of their fellow citizens are able to relax – and forget.

Sure, movies like American Sniper help to remind us of what those who are called upon to fight for our country’s interests experience. But that is just a drop in the bucket of the stories out there.

Luckily, the Veterans Writing Project has a mission. It helps those who have served and are still serving in our military write about their experiences. It helps family members write the stories of our veterans and military personnel.  Its online journal, O-Dark-Thirty, is one of the outlets to help get the millions of stories out.

The Veterans Writing Project provides writing workshops and seminars to veterans, service members, and adult family members. Conducted by writers with graduate degrees and who are veterans, the project helps participants with the writing process. The result can be fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.

There are three points of focus for the project. The first is to foster a new generation of literature, much of which will come from veterans and their families. Many great writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway, have experienced war.

The second is getting the stories told. With a generation of World War II veterans vanishing quickly and Korean War and Vietnam War veterans aging, so many stories are disappearing with them. We have more generations of veterans who have had different experiences that need to be told. Our country needs to read them.

In addition to O-Dark-Thirty, the Project is working to establish an archive of what those who have served (and still serve) write.

The third is the therapeutic nature of writing. The Project is not therapy and encourages anyone who needs help to seek it with professionals. However, writing out experiences can be cathartic for many people. The Project helps provide an environment “of mutual trust and respect” for them.

I urge veterans, military service members, or adult children to check out the Project for themselves. I urge others to visit O-Dark-Thirty to read some of what’s there.

The Veterans Writing Project quietly, vitally works so that we, as a nation, won’t forget.