Monday, May 29, 2006


The eloquent and troublesome Christopher Hitchens reminds us, necessarily, of an utterly self-evident truth: “Since all efforts at commemoration are bound to fall short, one must be on guard against any attempt at overstatement. In particular, one must resist efforts to ventriloquize the dead. …Nothing is more tasteless, when set against the reality of death, than the hollow note of demagogy and false sentiment.”

It is necessary to be reminded of self-evident truths. That is what remembrance is. That is what a day of memorial is. How could we ever forget the loss of what is beloved? But we do. Not forget, exactly, but the raw wound in our hearts becomes scar tissue, and scar tissue has no feeling. The memory, then, becomes more seen than felt. And this too is necessary. How could we survive, poised forever on anguish?

But what is seen constantly before our eyes becomes commonplace, and loses its value. Do we watch every sunset? We would, if we had been blind but somehow gained sight. We would, for a time. Then we’d have to remind ourselves to do so. We’d set aside some special time, to savour what is precious. We’d make a date, with the sunset, so that we might remember to be grateful.

So it is with every anniversary. The passing of a year is an arbitrary nothingness. What about the fact of the revolution of the earth has meaning? We don't generally allow ourselves to think of annual, uh, anniversaries as meaningless, because it would lead to a calling into question of every value we may hold. Such speculations are the duty of all adolescents, and are resolved, with maturity, not so much as imponderables as practicalities. Necessity is a great arbiter.

What isn't necessary, what is unnecessary is drama – or I should say, melodrama. Words can do more to detract, than add to the meaning of actions. So we do not say that men gave their lives. Hardly any of them gave their lives, and to say otherwise is to deny what war is. We are drafted, or volunteer, not to die but to kill. The horrifying symmetry of the equation is that they on the other side do the same thing. If we’d known that it was us who would die, we might have tried to find some way around it. Do we not have wives? – little children? It is the uncertainty of war, that makes it possible. Uncertainty and, again, necessity. In any event, ours is not the culture that honors the suicide. When we do choose to lay down our lives, it is rarely simply to kill the enemy – it is almost always to save our friends.

That’s why we fight. That’s why, even when our lives are taken, they are given. That’s why even when anguish finally grows dull, it must be remembered. Because it is hardly ever for nothing. Some of us recall what the greatest love is – to lay down your life for another. This is something that needs to be remembered.

They do not go, to die. They do not go into violent death joyfully. It is a great price to pay, and must be remembered not only with thankfulness, but grief. They pass down and out of our sight into lonely uncertainty, and for all that they may have faith, they go into darkness.

I would damn myself for a fool, if I lost my son. There could be no memorial that would ease my heart. Such is my fear. It isn’t about me, though, is it. But the only truth we know is the one that has been made real to us. Everything else is just ventriloquism.

God bless those who have been slain in a righteous cause. May we preserve a proper thankfulness in our hearts and in our actions. May we remember the beauty of sunsets, even if we fail to lift our eyes.



ELAshley said...

Remembrance seems to be the biggest problem surrounding 9-11, the impetus for this War of Terrorism. It almost seems as though many would obliterate that day from our collective memory if it were possible, but as you so eloquently stated, we're quite good at forgetting on our own. What need we of politicians or media? But we've been commemorating this day for decades, and 9-11 is not at issue in this... Remembrance of those who gave their lives is.

Am I to assume from your mention, that your son is in Iraq/Afghanistan? When does his tour end?

Jack H said...

Yeah. They don't show the planes crashing into the buildings anymore, do they. I guess it's supposed to be a secret. I'd have a cable station showing it 24/7 on a continuous loop. With a sound track of some beheadings. Truly, Allah is great. The most powerful mask that Satan ever wore. Or is that insensative?

My son?

Brent said...

A few days ago I prayed for your son. My habit is to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and whoever He lays on my heart to pray for. I thought of writing but didn't want to belittle the experience by sounding a trumpet. However, now it seems appropriate. Thanks for your sacrifice as a father. Let him know that we appreciate his service and are praying for his safety and speedy success. Blessings.

Jack H said...

Thanks. There's too much talk in the world, and too little prayer. A thought entirely original to myself.



Jack H said...

But it occurs to be that I should clarify, my son is not presently deployed - no special danger.