Remembering in this season of life and death

Many mornings I wake up with the dawn, and in May that means about 5 a.m. Stepping outside at that early hour does wonders for my spirit. Spring, the season of renewal, is well underway. The dawn chorus of songbirds proclaiming their breeding territory is almost overwhelming.

The beauty of spring is simply awesome. Of course there are the stunning rhododendrons and azaleas, but also there are many other spring blooms, large and small. No matter what we humans may be up to, politically or otherwise, this beauty and that chorus proves to me that here on this good Earth the biological demand to perpetuate life goes on.

In the middle of all this life energy and renewal, we celebrate our most serious and sacred holiday, Memorial Day. Last Monday, my 14-year-old son, Aaron, and I visited the cemetery. We went to visit one specific grave, and took a small flag to place there. We need not have worried about the flag; someone had already placed a flag at the grave of each veteran.

Having Aaron in my life gives me a reason to think about, and discuss, complex topics. This day we talked about patriotism. Aaron and his eighth grade class are studying World War II, and earlier this year they were fortunate enough to make a visit to France, and specifically to Normandy. In preparation for his trip, we watched “Saving Private Ryan,” a film whose opening minutes reenact the Normandy invasion very realistically.

Aaron said that standing among the graves in the American cemetery at Normandy gave him a feeling of patriotic pride and, also, great sadness at the death of so many young soldiers. This Memorial Day I feel my young son for the first time understands the ultimate sacrifice that has been made, over many generations, to create this great country.

I want Aaron, and all children, to understand that individual American citizens have an obligation of loyalty – basic patriotism. Patriotism can take many forms, of course. Taking the time to vote, and to become an informed voter, is patriotic, as is fighting for civil rights or to protect the environment.

But in May, around Memorial Day, Aaron and I are both thinking about the men and women who have given their very lives for America. Most were young, energetic and in full bloom; they were in the spring of their lives. It is more than fitting, therefore, that we remember them each spring, surrounded by that energetic renewal that greets us each spring day.

Thinking about war and sacrifice causes my mind to turn to the presidential election of 2000. It was an election where both candidates, in their youth, had to register for the draft and face the possibility of combat. Vice President Gore had served in Vietnam and had experienced the sights, sounds and smells of battle and death. Because Governor Bush (and his running mate, Dick Cheney) had managed to avoid active service, they had none of these experiences.

Of course, we know what happened. Bush was elected, narrowly. There was the 9 / 11 attack, and since that date America has been in a perpetual state of war. I cannot help but think that, had Mr. Gore been president, everything would have been much different. We would not have invaded Iraq and therefore likely would not have the Mideast chaos we have today.

Had Mr. Gore been elected, perhaps our nation would have aggressively addressed our oil and fossil fuel addiction. Possibly our “war” today would be against climate change and, by reducing our national obsession with oil, maybe we could have stopped the sacrifice of American lives at the altar of Middle Eastern oil. Elections do have consequences!

But, really, I’m not trying here to rehash the past, but rather to wonder about the future. War, and therefore deaths and national cemeteries, seems to be our new order. And yet, for the most part, our political leaders and their close relatives have little personal experience with actual combat. It is a great responsibility to send young people off to war; it concerns me greatly that the politicians making those decisions have so little experience with it.

Amazing as it may seem, another item blooming this spring is the presidential election season. Please listen to what the candidates have to say about war, oil politics and climate change and ask yourself, is this the person we want to trust with the lives of our young men and women?