In Memoriam for Memorial Day
As I write this, it's early Friday afternoon and I'm just back from running errands and I'm about to start preparations for a House ritual tomorrow and my Memorial Day observances Monday. When I was out and about today, several people wished me 'happy holiday' and you know, we all work hard, and I understand the anticipation of a three day weekend, or an unexpected day off, so I returned the greeting but I couldn't help but think "this isn't a holiday. It's so much more than that." and I wonder if anyone gives any thought anymore to what Memorial Day is really about.
Memorial Day is a big deal in my devotional world. For those who may not know, it's a day in the US specifically set aside to honor all those who died while serving in the armed forces. It used to be called Decoration Day, and people would go to military cemeteries, or the section of cemeteries set aside for the military dead and decorate the tombstones with flags, wreaths, and flowers. Now, we have bar-b-qs and go shopping and maybe watch a parade. I find that sad.
In my House (and also in my personal devotional practice), we spend a significant portion of our resources honoring the dead, and a significant portion of that honoring the military dead, our warrior dead. You know what? We all have them. Somewhere our ancestral lines, probably closer than some might think we have military dead. I'll tell you something else, we're here in large part because of them. These were men and women who did what was necessary, what they thought right to protect their loved ones, to make life better - as they understood it--for those left behind, and those who would come after them. They made the hard choices so we wouldn't have to and many of them paid the ultimate price. Their bodies, their lives, their blood, their terror are the building blocks on which our country and civilization has been built. These men and women are often ridiculed or forgotten. They're ignored, or sometimes even shown disrespect. We like to pretend we owe everything to our peacekeepers but the peacekeepers maintain civilization, it's the warriors who build it.
Perhaps that is overly facile a description, I'll admit, but it is difficult to write about a day honoring the military dead without feeling oh so strongly the press of my own military dead at my back. As a shaman, one of my duties is speaker for the military dead, and they often share their emotions and experiences with me, so that I might carry that forward into work that I do. A huge part of my job in this capacity is making sure that they are remembered in any ancestor work of which I am part. On days like Memorial Day I will sit with them and let them tell their stories. I will clean their altars (I have a huge shrine to the military dead in my home), make offerings of food, drink, tobacco, and anything else that I feel they might like. Sometimes I'll get specific requests. I will pray and prostrate myself before their shrine in respect. I'll also visit local cemeteries -- there are five equidistant from my home---and clean and decorate the military graves there. It is the least I can do, after all, given that I am then coming home to a clean house, warm bed, hot food, friends, family, and partner. They didn't come home at all.
Honoring the military dead isn't about supporting the wars in which they fought. It's about recognizing the sacrifice of men and women not too different from us, who did what they believed necessary. It's about honoring their sacrifice, because we are here and they are not and in many respects we are here because they put themselves in harms way and are not. One day a year, two if one counts Veterans Day, is not too much to give. The greatest gift we can give them is respect and remembrance. Let us not forget our fallen warriors, our soldiers, the men and women who laid down their lives for ours. Hail them.
A Prayer for the Military Dead
For all those who died in service,
For all those soldiers, who lay forgotten in their graves,
For all those whose only grave was the field where they fell,
For all those who died far away from home, terrified, in pain,
doing what they must for survival,
For all those who never returned to their homes and loved ones,
I hail you.
May your service never be forgotten.
May your sacrifices never be forgotten.
May you live always in our memory
I hail you now with reverence.
I praise the military dead.
(make an offering).
(For those also interested in doing something for living military veterans, here are some good places to which to donate in order to help our veterans and their families: http://www.fisherhouse.org and http://www.dav.org and http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/).
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