Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Holiday Retrospective

I like to drive. I think while I drive. I like to listen to provocative things on the radio and let my mind chew on Big Issues. This past Independence Day, I found myself guiding my husband’s little red car through the paces of widely curving, forested Highway 30 on the way to Seaside to "do" our July 4th event; and I was tuned in to public radio.

Uninspired about the holiday itself, I preferred to anticipate the fireworks, and the picnic, and the time away from work. I couldn’t go any deeper than that. Somewhere in the course of the last seven years, mindless, enthusiastic flag-waving lost its appeal for me. The McCarthy-esque fervor that followed 9/11 put me completely off the concept of patriotism; and the hideous debacle of the Iraq War has rekindled my Vietnam-Era distaste for anything remotely connected with the military. I can’t stand at attention and, without giving them any thought, belt out the words to our impossible national anthem…that song born of war, which iconizes a scrap of cloth flapping above the carnage and surviving a night afire with rockets and bombs. I shrink from the idea that human beings can wreak such violence upon one another, and then have the audacity to immortalize it in song.

The Bush Administration policy of "attack now and come up with the reasons later" did our military, our nation, and our "Office of the President" no favors whatsoever. The President wanted a war, so he made one. On the international stage, irreparable damage has been wrought upon our national reputation. And on the home front, cries of "support the troops!" are beginning to ring false.  The Administration doesn't support them.  Why are the rest of us commanded to do so?  I have come to view our troops as an inept, ill-equipped group of "Ugly Americans," sent halfway across the world completely unprepared for a mission that was never fully fleshed-out to begin with.

So I was not really in a receptive mood when the story came on the radio. The one about the soldiers. The soldiers who wrote poetry. In particular, the soldier who wrote the poem about "The Cat." A pregnant calico appears out of the dust of battle and teaches a young man lessons about life, and the end of life, that he desperately needs to learn in order to make peace with the death he has chosen to court and cheat.

A combatant turned poet. Or perhaps it was the other way ‘round. I’ll never know. But his lovely poem, his important poem, his very personal poem, made this young man—someone I might have thought of as brainwashed beyond redemption, perhaps lacking softer human emotions like compassion—suddenly real to me. He exhibited such stark humanity that I was moved to tears.

Confused, embarrassed tears. Why was I crying?  For him? For the cat? For those legions of faceless young men and women who all at once resolved into individual faces with names, with fears and hopes and questions much like the ones with which I struggle every day.? Or maybe not so much…as I don’t live with the ever-present specter of an IED waiting behind every rock, abandoned vehicle, garbage can…or cat…in my path..

It was haunting, that poem. So much so that I think of it still, many days later. I consider all the things that it tells me. About myself. About young people caught up in events over which they have no control. About a species which could fabricate such violence, yet be so touched by the spirit of one small, incidental creature.

I won’t say there is hope for us. But perhaps there is understanding, which is the first step.


  1. That poem just grabs you.

  2. I heard that poem ~ I loved that poem.

  3. That one is a heart breaker. What a tangled, Gordian knot of a mess.


  4. I wonder if there is any way to get a copy of that poem.  You know this young boys and girls were sold a bill of goods.  Many of them were told out and out lies that they would NOT be going into combat. That joining the military was a way to get their education paid for.  Many of these young people were living in poverty and the military was sold to them as a way to the good life.  It is a sad state of affairs.

  5. wow...hope.   I cried too.

  6. I heard that story, too, Lisa, and was also quite touched by it.  

    Wonderful post, Lisa.