MEMORIAL DAY 2015
May 25, 2015
Hello all and thank you for being here on a day that is not only a holiday but a holy day to those of us that are touched by the deep, searing meaning of this ceremony.
There are few occasions that I feel more honored to speak about as Mayor. I am called upon once a year to voice the anguish and gratitude our city feels, for so many of our families have experienced loss that is inexplicably sad.
Walls of granite across the land are etched with the names of young men and women that have given their lives – their promise and their futures – to our community and nation. The inscriptions are distantly cold, and can never speak to the marvelous lives that once coursed with flushed faces, laughter and intention.
The thought of this enormous loss is so daunting.
The concrete finality of such loss breaks my heart and silences my muse. Waves of conflicts have washed over our nation, each surge pulling away those we love like glittering specks of sand tossed into the mirth of motion and then gone to a vast emptiness.
This reality overwhelms me every year. I think of mothers and fathers fearfully sending these children off to the military with pride and a sense of powerlessness that must be so difficult, but is nothing compared to the few that receive a knock on the door revealing a crisp, uniformed officer delivering news that ends all hope.
I die a little bit knowing each name on a memorial comes with a similar pronouncement and aftermath.
So, every year, I struggle for words. I stew for days with thoughts of patriotism, service, community and the terror that is bound up in the essence of this day. I think of our blessed way of life in the United States of America – of our abundance, joy and freedom and feel quite lost. I worry that I cannot adequately express our communal feelings…
So, I will start with our proud soldiers. It is because of our military that we are afforded peace. We are afforded personal freedoms and ease that allows us to actually ignore the privileges that others are fighting and dying for around the globe. We have access to food, healthcare and education. We can vote, or not. We can eat well, or not. We can thrive, or not. We can worship God or the devil or a light bulb, or not. We can even work or not, though I truly believe most people would prefer to earn a living than accept a handout. Americans are inherently noble people.
I mulled this all over while at a bonfire the night before last. My friends and family gathered in a circle as warm as the pyre that drew us to its heat. A cooler of cold beer opened and closed while young children ran outside the ring of chairs. Young adults, so recently boys and girls, laughed lightly and courted in the flickering shadows of the periphery. We seated parents looked on with amusement and nostalgia, and then would gaze into the mysterious living thing that fire is.
We watched as logs were tossed into the coals and a burst of embers would explode into the night to drift upward and disappear into the black. Our heads tilted back on our chairs as we fixed our eyes on the speckled canopy of darkness.
I thought each hot, orange ember must certainly take its place amongst its far sisters, the stars, transported from this temporal reality to the sparkling realm of timeless light. I like to think that these tiny fragments that grace the sky are the ever-present evidence of the beauty of souls that are lost to us. Souls dance their way to the stars like embers and in the 300 years that we have been a sovereign nation, 1.1 million soldiers have filled the night sky.
For me, a woman of a certain age and temperament that does NOT believe in the devil or the omnipotent power of a light bulb, God has given us these stars as a sign that there is order, permanence and meaning in our lives that surpasses the inexplicable tragedies of this existence.
And I think it must be this faith that sustains us through violence, poverty and war. It must be this faith that gives young men courage to break away from the comforts of home. It must be faith that allows a mother a final kiss before deployment and it MUST be faith that gives a husband, wife or child the strength to bear a triangular flag beside a casket, the white stars on a field of blue held as closely as breath and tears.
These were my fireside thoughts the other night. I expressed them tearfully to my friend, John. We both stared in silence at the flames and then he turned to me and said, “Ann, it’s all true. This is so horribly sad. But there is this too: each soldier had given meaning to his or her life. They have served our country with dignity. They tried to carry democracy to a world that thirsts for our way of life. They went with selfless obedience to keep our county safe and free. The meaning of their lives is as vast and great as the sky above us.”
We both went silent again. I think we both were crying. John is so right.
Please remember the gift of each one of those stars when you pledge allegiance to our flag and when staring quietly up at a haunted, star-filled sky. That magnificent sky is filled with love.
Thank you to the fine veterans that have served and to those that are still active today.
Thank you again to the Veteran’s Commission for organizing this event again, as you do every year. Amsterdam is grateful for your continuous advocacy on behalf of those that have served our country so well. And lastly, thank you to God, for planting us all in the soil of this great nation where such freedom and sacrifice may be reverently celebrated.