“Give them their meaning”

There is often a lot of fluff on Facebook but then there are times when you read a post with some depth. Often it’s the announcement of a birth or a death or some other significant event in a friend’s life or family. 

I came across one such post Saturday from a friend named Posie who posted this:

The young dead soldiers do not speak.

Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses: 
who has not heard them?

They have a silence that speaks for them at night 
and when the clock counts.

They say: We were young. We have died. 
Remember us.

They say: We have done what we could 
but until it is finished it is not done.

They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished 
no one can know what our lives gave.

They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours, 
they will mean what you make them.

They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for 
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say, 
it is you who must say this.

We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning. 
We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.

Archibald MacLeish

In researching this poem titled The Young Soldiers do not Speak, I found an interesting article on a speech Archibald MacLeish (a three time Pulitzer Prize winning author) gave when asked to address a group in 1966 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prizes. 

On the topic of what the Pulitzer Prize means to an author, he said, among other things:

What these awards have done for many of us in this indifferent world of ours – this particularly indifferent American world – is somehow to include them [poets].  We need, most of us, a sign of recognition, not recognition of our ultimate worth as poets — only poetry itself can give that — but recognition that we exist. That we are there. Among those who went before and those who will come after.

Hmnn … “recognition that we exist. That we are there.” 

For the past year, many of my camp friends and I have been reading daily Facebook posts from a camp friend with terminal cancer. After we knew her at camp she became a chef and she’s been generously sharing favorite recipes and cooking secrets with us over the past many months. She’s also shared stories from her life, lessons learned through the years, and an intimate glimpse of the special love she holds for her husband Neil. Her posts are honest, thought-provoking, and well-written. 

A few days ago in a post titled “Epitaph” she wrote: “I have been blathering on here for a little over a year and I do want to record a few important things.” She then lists several things important to her and then gets to this: “Someday, I hope in a distant future, one will be able to look back and say ‘She was here.'”

There it is – that quiet plea for us to recognize, to remember … and in this particular case, it came bundled with a treasured recipe for chess pie.

Over fifty years ago a celebrated poet referred to us as “indifferent” Americans. Amidst all of today’s Memorial Day trappings – the picnics, lake outings, and blockbuster Memorial Day sales, can we not stop and give meaning to the lives of the departed service men and women and be grateful? We can and we should and I trust we will. 

But, in doing so, are we the different amidst the indifferent? If so, can we be the difference that one day overcomes the indifference? I think so.

Happy Memorial Day.

 

Healing Field Flags of Remembrance
Memorial Day Flags of Remembrance in Murfreesboro, Tennessee

 

 

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