But, it was Memorial Day and I've sort of been struggling with what it means to me.
Last week, the boys and I were downtown. Carmac had an ice cream cone that was drippy. We were walking past the sculpture of Chet Atkins in front of a bank building. There's a second, empty, stool in the sculpture (you can see it to the right in the photo) so I sat Mac on it while he ate his cone. A man walked up to us, grinned at Mac, said "that's the reason I go to work each day" and walked away. For a moment I didn't think anything about it because people are always smiling and saying things to and about Carmac when we're downtown-small children being a rarity in the rushing world of the business suited. But this man wasn't wearing a suit; he was wearing fatigues and carrying an army-issue duffel bag. He was a soldier; a fact that didn't register with me until he was halfway across the street.
Ever since then, I've been thinking about how I would respond to that man if I'd been more alert. The unthinking response would be to thank him for his service. I do respect the sense of duty and honor and the bravery of our service people. I think it takes great courage to join the military and to be willing to die for one's country. But I have so many other feelings. I don't want anyone to be willing to give his life for my life nor that of my child, especially not in abstraction. I think that couching this War in Iraq in terms of "American Liberty" and seeing "freedom" in the face of my child is false. My child has nothing to do with why so many people are fighting and dying in Iraq. My child's life is not, nor will ever be, benefitted by the war, in any way. I understand why a person would need to believe that he was fighting for a just cause and to put the face of innocence and purity on it, but to me, it's a lie. I believe this war is strictly about political and monetary gain and our service people are pawns.
But I couldn't very well say that to the kind soldier smiling at Carmac, could I? How could I respond honestly and with integrity but especially with compassion to him? What could I say? How can I honor his sacrifice while remaining true to my heart? "Thank you for what you do. Please stop." is certainly not respectful. I don't think I know how to be honest and respectful about this in a momentary encounter. Maybe saying "Thank you for your courage. I pray for peace." I don't know. I'm not sure that I can even say "thank you for what you are willing to do" with honesty because being willing to fight in a war means being willing to kill and I can't support that. I don't mean to be disrespectful of a person's choices, but joining the military means being willing to kill, if instructed to do so. I understand that there are many reasons for a person to join the military (Declan has friends who have already signed up because they can't afford an education any other way). But, going to war is about fighting an enemy. I can't, in good conscience, thank someone for being willing to kill another human being. Which is not to say that the kind soldier smiling at Carmac has or ever will have killed anyone, but what if he has. What if he thinks I'm thanking him for doing just that?
WWJD? I don't know. Did Jesus ever stand on a busy streetcorner helping a 4 year old eat a melting ice cream cone and respond with compassion to a soldier who was making a symbol out of a child? What would Jesus do? What could he do? The encounter was brief. Jesus had the ability to transcend the moment and touch the heart of the people he encountered. If I can live nearer my center, I may be more likely to respond in a Christ-like way, with honesty and compassion.