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MEMORIAL DAY 2014
May 26 • Veterans Field, Amsterdam, NY

Good morning all. I ask you to join me in a short exercise as we think about the meaning of Memorial Day.

Think of someone you’ve loved with all of your heart that has died. Choose one person that was your reason to live or your strongest support in this crazy, confusing life… that one someone that you still cannot live without that has died. They may be a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a child, or a close friend. Imagine as clearly as you can their smiling face.

il_fullxfull.335691994

Think of all of the wonderful moments you shared… the laughter at the dining room table at Thanksgiving, the closeness you felt as children when you leapt together from rock to rock in a stream, the happiness you felt as you watched them stand in cap and gown for a graduation portrait, the gratitude you felt when they poured you a glass of milk because you were too small to manage, the understanding that passed between you as you accepted an engagement ring, the moments you spent together in silent reverie in a church pew, the harsh tears you shared when life was unbearable or angry…

Think about the last time you saw your loved one. That very last, irretrievable moment when you thought, “well, maybe this is it,” but deep in your heart, you couldn’t believe it. You gently held a bird-like hand at the bedside, you tousled someone’s already wild hair, you both stared off awkwardly into different directions, you noted how grown up he looked in that military uniform, you embraced her tightly in the hallway, you watched his headlights fade as he drove into the last bit of twilight before evening…

and then they were gone.

Think about how desperately you sought out the last remnants of their being… how you grabbed a shirt out of the laundry basket or a pillow off of the bed, and buried your face in it for a fleeting scent that would all too soon be forgotten… how you eyed the keys they left on the table or the sock by the bed as if they would insistently push back through the door to retrieve them… how you touched the hospital monitor to kick it back into rhythm… how you watched the clouds move across a sky suddenly imbued with a presence that was ripping your heart from its cage.

We all come to know mourning in ways that are small and terrible.

Think about how tenuous that memory of your loved one is… how everyday, color and realities sift from that image… how facial features and context breezily lift away in thin, transparent sheets… notice how blurred that face is in your memory and how difficult it becomes to hold on to the story of your time together because each day subtly subtracts remembrances without your knowing.

How at mercy we are to the evil thievery of time.

Days tick off of the calendar into weeks, then months, then years. We learn to live with muted recollection. We are stuck with photo albums that have frozen only fractions of a life that had been rich and tactile and deeply meaningful.

Now think of that loss in terms of the many, many souls we have lost to war. In fact, we have lost over 1.1 million in the three hundred years we have existed as a sovereign nation.

Think of that incredible loss to our hearts and to our country.

Our memories lift collectively from us like dandelion seeds on a light wind. They peel away until we stand before walls of lonely names without tether to the hearts that etched them there. The souls that wore these names and the uniforms of our country are gone forever, as are many of the loving people they belonged to.

It is the testament of each military monument, with names that have been scratched into stone that calls us all to the purpose of this day. They drive us as a community to never forget that each name held the magic of a life that we have lost forever. More importantly, each boy or girl that is memorialized on that monument took a selfless oath to serve our country.
This quote by Reverand Randolf Harrison McKim speaks to this selflessness and sacrifice perfectly: “Not for fame or reward, not for place or for rank, not lured by ambition or goaded by necessity, but in simple obedience to duty as they understood it, these men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all, and died.”

On this day, we must grieve for we have lost generations of loved ones.

But just as we must grieve, so too must we also celebrate the lives of those dear souls that have ensured our prosperity, commerce, comfort and freedom. They have given us a country that values equality, ingenuity, religious choice and free speech.

All too often, we walk or drive past these monuments without thought to the spectacular gift of our everyday lives, so it is fitting that we gather as one to give thanks for each and every brave individual, both living and dead, that have taken the oath to serve in our military.

Thank you, each of you here today that had passed through the rigors of boot camp, crisply saluted a superior officer, presented your weapon with precision, and marched as one body with your company. Thank you to those veterans that had served decades ago but still stand at attention when our national anthem is played. Thank you for tending to the graves of your fellows and never allowing us to forget our duty to those that have passed.

Thank you to the young men and women that still take up the oath and grace us with their protection at present. You continue a tradition that is proud and honorable.

Thank you so much 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.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

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at prayer with mary

women-outstretched-arms-hodler

“Come, Spirit,
make me docile to your voice.
Help me debate angels.
Let your will be done in me
even if it means
misunderstanding,
rejection,
scandal.
Give me wisdom to find you
in the irrational:
heavens gone awry,
astrologers’ predictions,
songs in the night.
Give me such hospitality of heart that
family,
foreign seers,
poor shepherds and animals
find a home in my presence.
Let me protect innocent children from
oppressive power.
Make me fearless of foreign lands and
unknown journeys.
When I cannot find you
do not let me rest until I search
home,
highway,
and temple.
Let me always insist on miracles to
celebrate love.
And when all I love on earth
lies lifeless in my arms
let me offer it to you with such freedom
of heart
that I am swept up into the heavens.
Amen.”

at prayer with mary – mary lou kownacki, osb – benedictine sisters of erie

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Memorial Day Speech
May 27, 2013

Good morning. Thank you all for being here.

It is a glorious thing that we have all risen, blinked sleep from our eyes and shuffled to the mirror, to mark one more day with a direct look into the glass, noting one more line, one more dark spot, one more sigh with one more promise to try for one more day.

memorial-day-vintage-postcard-1

It’s a glorious thing.
We are all here.

God has given us a glorious day – cool and brilliantly sunny; a day shot with the verdant greens and vibrant colors of this new Spring. We are so blessed with this day and this early morning of communion. We are so blessed with this purpose and with our responsibility, for we are here in recognition of those that have given us this day with their lives.

We have come here with the knowledge that there are members of families all across this nation that had opened their eyes, and for the briefest of moments, lingered in the forgetfulness that sleep brings, before the terrible knowledge that a certain loved one will never again push away the covers of their bed and meet them in the familiar spaces that make up one’s home.

Families woke up today to silent rooms with empty spaces that will never again be filled. Even on days as glorious as this, when every surface is drenched with radiant recognition, the sunlight can seem senseless with loss.

We are here to share the burden of that sorrow and to offer our gratitude to those families for the heartbreak that they endure. Someone that they loved very deeply and completely has made the ultimate sacrifice and given their life for this nation, for this community, and for this day.

I encourage all of you that hear my words to take time today to visit every military monument in this city, as each stone is emblazoned with this names of young men and women that had readily offered up their everyday freedoms and comforts in the name of service. Take time to touch the cool, etched surface of granite and try to feel the enormity of each life given.

Remember that these are not anonymous names on a monument or numbered fatalities that are easily tallied. They were soldiers that stood in unison for the principles that make our country great… liberty, honor, valor, commitment, and selfless service to others. Most importantly, they were loved members of our community that had given the full measure of their devotion. They were our young ones and loved ones and unique souls that will never again know the kiss of daylight. Each left a family forever changed by grief and silence, just as our Country has lost the promise each young life carried for a greater future.

Our sadness is as palpable as the cool breeze that stirs the leaves and carries Taps into the distance.

But, because of this glorious day, we must understand the gifts that have been bestowed upon us and carry on with gratitude and obligation so that these sacrifices have not been made for naught. We must do all that we can to be supportive of our neighbors and the members of our community. We must nurture our children, treat our properties and environs with respect, participate in an open and honest governmental process, and dedicate ourselves to being honorable, involved citizens of a small city with big aspirations.

For those that have given us this day, we are obligated to bring prosperity and pride back to this small community.

And as a nation of small communities that make up the greatest power on earth, we must stand, as a bastion for all that is good and just. As a nation of wealth, we must share food, education, medication and resources so that the world is freed from poverty. As a nation built on equality, we must model tolerance, faith and charity. And as a just nation of unrivaled military might, we must democratically champion for the rights of the weak and the oppressed.

Half-staff-etiquette-for-memorial-day

This is what calls our boys and girls to duty and is what our young warriors have died for. We must never forget this higher calling.

Thank you so much to the Veteran’s Commission for organizing this tribute, year after year. We are all grateful for the work you do on behalf of the veterans of our community year round – from the careful tending of monuments to continuous advocacy on behalf of those that have served our country so well. Our veterans are the living embodiment of Amsterdam’s service to the defense of liberty and the nation. They stand here, not just in their own right, but also for all those who cannot.

In closing, please take time to remember those that proudly wear our uniform and actively honor our flag around the world today. We owe them our praise and deepest appreciation. Their service presses us to be our best.

It is a glorious thing.

To these many fine soldiers, we all pray, come back to us in the light and safety of God’s hands.

Amen

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A Prayer among Friends

Among other wonders of our lives, we are alive
with one another, we walk here
in the light of this unlikely world
that isn’t ours for long.
May we spend generously
the time we are given.
May we enact our responsibilities
as thoroughly as we enjoy
our pleasures. May we see with clarity,
may we seek a vision
that serves all beings, may we honor
the mystery surpassing our sight,
and may we hold in our hands
the gift of good work
and bear it forth whole, as we
were borne forth by a power we praise
to this one Earth, this homeland of all we love.

– John Daniel, from Of Earth. © Lost Horse Press, 2012.

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prayer of the
farm workers’ struggle

Show me the suffering of the most miserable;
So I will know my people’s plight.

Free me to pray for others;
For you are present in every person.

Help me take responsibility for my own life;
So that I can be free at last.

Grant me courage to serve others;
For in service there is true life.

Give me honesty and patience;
So that the Spirit will be alive among us.

Let the Spirit flourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.

Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.

Help us love even those who hate us;
So we can change the world.

Amen.

– César E. Chávez

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bruce

This one ages better than wine.

Thunder Road

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside, darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain for a saviour to rise from these streets
Well now I’m no hero, that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s bustin’ open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks

Oh oh come take my hand
Riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh oh oh oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey I know it’s late, we can make it if we run
Oh oh oh oh Thunder Road, sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road

Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken
Tonight we’ll be free, all the promises will be broken
There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind, so Mary climb in
It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win

– Bruce Springsteen, 1975

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guide me

All mighty Father,
whose way is in the sea
and whose paths are in the great waters
whose command is over all and whose love never faileth:
Let me be aware of Thy presence
and obedient to Thy will.
Keep me true to my best self,
guarding me against dishonesty in purpose and in deed,
and helping me so to live
that I can stand unashamed and unafraid before my shipmates,
my loved ones, and Thee.

Protect those in whose love I live.
Give me the will to do the work of a man
and to accept my share of responsibilities
with a strong heart and a cheerful mind.
Make me considerate of those intrusted to my leadership
and faithful to the duties my country has intrusted to me.
Let my uniform remind me daily
of the traditions of the Service of which I am a part.

If I am inclined to doubt, steady my faith;
if I am tempted, make me strong to resist;
if I should miss the mark, give me courage to try again.
Guide me with the light of truth and keep before me the life of Him
by whose example and help I trust
to obtain the answer to my prayer,
Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Amen.

world war II – naval serviceman

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