Ciao'd in a summery yet somber state of mind.
Yay! Memorial Day! The official first day of summer. Road trips, lolling on the beach, trash novels. Sun-kissed or sun-burnt, we're high-fiving each other for our triumphant traverse through cold snowy mornings and blowy spring afternoons. Now here we are, hosting or attending the requisite holiday barbecue (aka cookout in the back East parts from which I hail). Cheers!
Today, I was thinking about Memorial Day but not in a barbecue (aka cookout) kind of way. Truth be told, my recollection of the last Monday in May fuses billowing flags and red, white and blue parades. Sure, they enthusiastically commemorate our awe-inspiring armed forces, but this year for me, the meaning of Memorial Day plumbs more deeply. "Traditional" military protection for the US in far-flung countries - tanks prowling Mideast streets, hand-to-hand combat in the desert- now melds with counter-terrorism surveillance that monitors chatter, analyzes risk, and signals the imminence of an attack. I'm sure the vigil is mostly successful. But sometimes it's not. People die and, in the midst of the cataclysm(s), people become heroes. They claim Memorial Day acclaim, too. For God's sake, haven't we seen enough of this?
No doubt, people uttered the same question during World War 1 and World War 2 and so many conflicts since. War, like politics, is personal.
So about those red poppies you see in the image above. They symbolize a poem written by Major John McCrae to commemorate his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who was killed on May 2nd 1915 in the Battle of Ypres during World War 1. The poem moves me for its beauty and emotion but also because it's as relevant today as it was 102 years ago. Isn't it sad that the more global conflict changes, the more it stays the same? Please forgive me for not posting a recipe for your Memorial Day barbecue. There are plenty of them out there. Check out Epicurious, New York Times Cooking, or Food 52.
Instead, I am posting this hauntingly lovely poem in honor of our soldiers and those that have traveled too early to the Elysian fields. Chances are, if you weren't an English major, you haven't encountered the poem. No worries. It's not esoterically poemy. You'll get it.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If you break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
- John McCrae 1915