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Remembering

LP just finished reading John Hersey's "Hiroshima" as an outside book for her Honors World Civ class. She loves Japan and all things Japanese, and this gave the stories particular poignancy for her. I know that my grandfather and my uncle and my daddy's friends were in the Pacific, and I know the justifications for dropping the bomb–to save lives, they thought–and I know that our own service members died after exposure to radiation in the aftermath or in the continued nuclear testing in the 1950s. The grandfather of LP's friend Guitar Boy was on the ground there three days after and later died of radiation-related cancer. My sorority sister, Saucy, got the word of her father's terminal diagnosis during Reading Week at the end of our junior year at the College of Knowledge. A pilot exposed to radiation in the desert, he had a fatal form of something that sounded like inverse leukemia. He died a few weeks after she got the phone call.

These memories make us uncomfortable.

Hersey wrote, or LP tells me he did–you see, it's been many years, and I can't remember exactly–that we forget.

We forget.

We forget that it was to be the War to End All Wars, and we have more and more wars. There always seems to be a good reason for it, doesn't there? There is always some group or some country posing some threat to some ally, and some need to be met that can only be met, we think, by a show of force.

Sometimes it's true.

On a news discussion show tonight someone said people who served in the military deserve lifelong healthcare, because there are injuries seen and unseen. I think the unseen is what we try so hard to forget, because we can. We equate silence about suffering with bravery, and we don't want to hear about what happened. We keep it quiet, mostly.

I think that happens because we take such an either/or approach to most issues, whether they are political or theological or philosophical. The only way to remember, to put the pieces back together, is to look at them honestly, to weigh the costs and benefits of the struggle, and to acknowledge that we can respect and honor those who fought without swallowing whole the notion that the mission cannot be questioned.

Remembering is a both/and pursuit.

Today I remember my dad and his friends Peabody and Eggnog and Pete and Frank and George, who went to a war that in memory feels unquestioned. I remember that some of them did not return whole, and some did not return at all. They used Vitalis and Brylcreem, and they listened to records, and they typed papers on those old-fashioned typewriters, and they sent V-mail, but they are not really different from the guys and gals who tweet and take cell phone pictures to send home and create playlists for their iPods.

They believed, and they believe, in something–that the world is screwed up, or that their country matters more than their safety. They come back from far places with images in their minds no one should have to remember, and they have to find a way to live with it without reliving it, or they have to find a way to keep it from dismembering them.

Today it's my prayer that we all re-member, that we work to put the pieces of the world together, that we stop tearing each other apart and create something whole.

5 thoughts on “Remembering”

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve been listening to Johnny Cash today, specifically “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.” Cash tried so hard to tell this physically and spiritually wounded soldier’s story…none of the DJs would play it, so he finally took out a full-page ad in “Billboard” magazine and told everybody to stop shutting their eyes and ears and pay attention. In spite of very limited airplay, the song eventually made it to the #3 spot on the charts. We all oughtta listen again– to Ira’s story, and every story a veteran is willing and able to tell.
    By the way, if you get a chance, there’s a veterans’ art show at Freeport Square all this month. Worth seeing.

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  2. i am sorry, seeing your excellent words several days late.
    my own dad served in the korean war, in japan, which was by then our ally. my daughter was born in japan, when my husband served there, and now she is spending her junior year abroad there.
    there is a peace memorial at hiroshima. i hope we can visit it, when we visit our daughter in japan in the spring.

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  3. Such a wonderful post. Thanks, SB!
    Hopefully, we will learn something from our past, so others do not have to face such tragic loss.
    Also, may we not forget those who have served and are serving in our Armed Forces today.

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