Mid-May is so green!! And the weeds ---- I wish one could find useful purposes for goutweed, ground ivy and garlic mustard. Actually, the first two do have vague medicinal uses, but so far, garlic mustard seems to be right up there with kudzu as a pesky invasive. However, I really believe that the purposes of many plants are still waiting to be discovered.
Memorial Day is approaching with drums, bugles and a host of baton-twirlers. “Decoration Day” was born in 1868, after the Civil War, as a time to decorate the soldiers’ graves. Then, in 1971, via the National Holiday Act, it was designated as the last Monday of May. And the custom of decorating military graves has expanded to include those of family members. I learned about family by accompanying my parents when they took flowers to cemeteries on Memorial Day weekend. Walking among the slightly eroded granite grave markers, I got to know Selenda and Archibald Pellett, Huldah Elizabeth Weatherwax (English version of the original Dutch Weiderwax) and Jennie Mae Allen (distant descendent of Ethan Allen). I loved the unusual names and through the stories, felt a kinship.
And although summer officially begins in mid-June, Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the unofficial start of the summer season; heralding BBQs, concerts, and wearing white. My school didn’t have an actual marching band, but our concert band marched in the Memorial Day parade. We sweltered in blue wool uniforms with shiny gold buttons, and kept time in sneakers as pristine white as shoe polish could make them. All the while we hoped that no one would fall by the wayside from heat. Usually I played the piccolo; occasionally the bell-lyre. It was always an exciting time, even though we were at an age of cluelessness in our understanding of why the celebration.
Now that we (mostly) have a better grasp of history, perhaps, in the midst of all our ceremonies, we could take some moments to truly contemplate those lives we honor. Appreciation for the men and women who defend our country from aggression is an obligation that we need to turn into action by supporting services for veterans. I am appalled at the hassles former soldiers, trying to get treatment for war-engendered health issues, endure. While we are improving treatment though, wouldn’t it be good to find a way to eliminate the circumstances that create those injuries? According to a T-shirt, “War is not about who is right; only about those who are left!” Killing people is such a futile, inglorious and wasteful way to solve problems. “Remember “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”,----“When will they ever learn?..”* from the 1960s? WWI was called the “War To End All Wars” and that was a mirage; only a bit over thirty years later, WWII came along. Two of my brothers were of an age to serve during that war, both in the South Pacific. I can only partially imagine my mother’s terror by measuring mine during the Gulf War when our sons were of an appropriate age. They were not called, for which I am exceedingly grateful, but young people that I know well, did go, and came back with both physical and emotional pain. In the fifties, there was the Korean Conflict, and then, Viet Nam, where we lost friends of our own age. One classmate returned from those jungles with a book of poetry, found under a rock, which he recently shared with me. It was written by a North Vietnamese “enemy soldier” --- who, according to the poetry, only wanted what every soldier wants; to go home to his girl. And --- two generations later---- a young member of our family was assigned several difficult tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no way to fight a war that does not leave scars of many kinds. Humanity seems quite able to cheer soldiers on and to extol their patriotism, but remains woefully inadequate at treating, or even recognizing, the visible and invisible maladies with which they return. Nor do I see any well-funded, focused efforts, research, or even common sense, aimed at trying to find solutions.
Human conflict has been around since Cain and Abel, and will probably be with us as long as greed, hubris and evil exist. Happily there are those who spend their days trying to fix the brokenness in this world. Not only soldiers, but teachers, diplomats, pastors, doctors, human-service workers, artists, musicians and volunteers by the thousands are among those who labor to stem the tide of human disaster. Instead of being critical of them and cutting their funding, as is often the case, perhaps we should consider them national treasures; antidotes to war, and necessary for the survival of humans.
I recently heard a “Ted Talk” given by a young woman** who had lost her fiancé in a rafting accident. She said that the trauma of that time made her realize how precious and fragile life is. She has, she explained, learned to be grateful for every day. Listening, I thought of how the very same situation can look so different to various people. You know ---- a rainy day may spoil your picnic but save my corn crop? Instead of cherishing each day, I sometimes find myself looking with a rather bleak eye at people and circumstances that unexpectedly become a part of my days; I can be annoyed when my agenda is messed up. One might even say I have a bad attitude!! But as Dr. Wayne Dyer said: “If you change the way you look at things, you look at change.”***
While I was still gainfully employed, an elderly gentleman used to come and plunk himself down beside my desk; settling in for a lengthy chat to fill some of his lonely afternoon. I was always polite, but I often wished that Howard would find someone else to whom he could tell his stories over and over. Then I came upon a passage by Henri Nouwen**** …. “A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame. Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said, with a twinkle in his eyes: ‘I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted ----until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.’” Same situation; two perspectives!
Realizing and expressing gratitude for the day and for life itself invariably pours sunshine into dark perspectives and grumpy attitudes. Moms in particular, with very good reason due to numerous past experiences, often tend to create a worst-case scenario, and I think that some of us may have a tendency to get stuck in the down-side of life. Our glass appears half-empty when by holding it a different way, it is obviously half-full. Fra Giovanni *****offered good advice when he said: “The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take Joy!” There is always something discouraging to bring us worries. But in a world where May abounds in flowers and greenery, and where we find delight in sunsets and high school marching bands, surely it is clear that life is good. And there is the added wonder that each of us can discover something within ourselves to make it better.
*”Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” --- written and sung by Peter, Paul & Mary
**Heather Warman gives Ted Talk: taken from Lumunos Newsletter
*** Dr. Wayne Dyer --- American Author and motivational speaker. 1940-2015
**** Henri Nouwen ---- Dutch Catholic priest, theologian, writer. 1932-1996
***** Fra Giovanni Giocondo ---- Italian friar who was also an architect, archaeologist and classical scholar. 1433-1515
Carol may be reached at email@example.com
Because the Elmira Telegram will be no longer available as of June 1st, those who wish to continue getting this article every two weeks may send me their Email, and I will add them to the list of kindly people who already receive articles in that mode.