Memorial Day, 2009 – As I sit in my recliner in my air-conditioned home looking through the glass sliding doors on to my back yard watching the rain come down, I think the time has come for a little bit of self-examination. Just to the right of the glass doors stands my “entertainment center’ where my flat-screen television quietly waits to provide me with “entertainment” from my digital cable, my DVD player, my Blu-Ray player, or my Wii. To the left of the glass doors is one of two built-in bookcases that frame the massive corner fireplace that warms my home anytime I desire, but is not necessary since all I really have to do is turn on the central heat. On the bookcases are color photos of loved ones, small ceramic pots and urns. Oh yeah, there are books on the shelves as well. Books of all types and sizes and at least three different translations of The Bible.
Just like the rest of my home, my “living room” is dry, comfortable and safe just as is Magee, my favorite dog, who is currently sacked out on the couch next to my chair. She raises her head as my wife passes through. She is curious to know if Pam is headed to the treat cabinet that holds her favorite treat, meat-stuffed rawhide. Her ears perk up as Pam opens the fridge but when the familiar crinkle of plastic that might indicate other potential “treats” isn’t heard, she turns to look out into the yard pretending that she really doesn’t care. But she waits until Pam returns and sits in her own recliner before giving up hope and lays her head back down and with a sigh dozes back off to dream the dreams that dogs dream. Later, Magee will give me even less attention as I rise to take advantage of one of the multiple in-door plumbing facilities scattered through-out my home. Apparently, she is acutely aware that there are no treats stored in those places and her feined interest wanes even faster with me than it did with Pam.
It is in this safe and comfortable place on Memorial Day that the reality of our “insulated lives” strikes me hard. For several weeks while preparing for a Memorial Day Special radio show, I have been thinking along the lines of how insulated everyone is from the harsh and cold realities of the world. It is not for me to wonder about the fairness or unfairness of life, because it is simply true that there is no inherent fairness in life and to wonder about it would serve no purpose. It is not pessimism that makes me say that, but rather realism. Our founding fathers acknowledged that “all men are created equal” and left it at that, because they knew that after a person is created, his or her perception of the fairness or unfairness of life is often determined by that individual.
This is not to say that there isn’t some inherent unfairness in life. There are some things individuals simply cannot overcome. A crippling disability, a tragic event, a devastating illness, a sudden death, or an economic catastrophy are all unfair situations that anyone may face. And while some people survive and some even thrive afterward, sadly, some do not.
Part of my preparation for the radio show was the publication of my great-uncle’s story of being a prisoner of war on Bataan and in doing so, I spent a lot of time reading his words. I noted when I originally wrote the story in 1985 that he often said, “I was lucky.” That comment struck me back then when I was 20 years old, but I failed to grasp the significance then. It would take 24 years, surviving a life-threatening illness and the loss of my step-daughter before I could read those words again and understand what he was really saying.
We live our lives insulated from the realities of life. We go to the store and buy our steaks and pork chops and chicken nuggets separated from much of the work that it takes to get the food to our tables. We click a button and bring the world into our homes instantly, and never think about our lives before the time when we could do such a thing. We decide to take a vacation and get into our cars, a train or a plane and go basically where ever we wish without a lot of thought about the days when such travel was beyond the realm of possibility. We are able to read books of our choosing, listen to music we like and watch movies we want to see. We are all lucky.
We are lucky that certain men and women woke up one day and decided to give more than their fair share. They stepped up to the plate and swung hard and hit a home run for all of us. They acknowledged the risks, took up their arms and marched into the gaping maw to fill the gap so the rest of us wouldn’t have to do it. The freedoms that I enjoy on this rainy Monday sitting in my comfortable, air-conditioned home, were paid for by the blood of thousands who were willing to do the hard things. It was a sobering moment when I heard my uncle say he was lucky, a moment that took many years to come back to me. For in his words I find the humility of a true military hero unwilling to take any credit for surviving one of the most difficult events anyone can survive. In his words, I realize that the ones who did not survive are still with him each and every day. In his words, I hear his acknowledgement of the unfairness of it all. And finally, in his words, I hear his thankfulness that God protected him and allowed him to return to the relative comfort of his life and the lives of all those he was prepared to die for.
The lives we live are insulated by the blood of men and women who did not return. And more than anything else, when he said, “I was lucky” I was really hearing him say “Thank you.” We believe in our comfort that we can change the world that somehow we can make it more fair when in reality all we can change is our reaction to the unfairness. Today, on this Memorial Day, we should react by remembering how unfair we are to only set aside one day to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our comfort.
I am lucky and so are you. No matter the situation, no matter how unfair life has been, we are all lucky. To the men and women of the United States Military, I say, “Thank You!” For without your courage, your strength, your committement, your dedication, and yes, your lives, how much more unfair would our lives be.