Let Us Remember

It’s Memorial Day, but it is also my son-in-law Cristhian’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Cris! I haven’t seen Cris and Shelby and Nico in months. So Saturday, the first nice day we’ve had weather wise in a week or more, I decided I would drive over to the Willamette Valley to deliver birthday presents in person.

Nico has a birthday this week, too. With the help of the staff at Paulina Springs Books, I was able to find some pretty special gifts. Cris has a doctorate in the science field, so I was delighted to be able to introduce him to one of my favorite science writers – Oliver Sacks. Do you know Sacks work? Do you have a favorite of his?  Sacks was in the medical field, whereas Cris is in the engineering field, but both share an endless curiosity about the world:

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure. – Oliver Sacks

A thinking animal.

Not all can make such a claim.

 

As we sat on the porch, socially distancing, wearing masks at times, we discussed how it seems too many humans find thinking bothersome. They exert more energy into making up excuses about why they can’t learn, don’t want to learn, can’t think, don’t want to think. They mock those who would learn and think. I just go with my gut, they claim.

So they venture out into crowds sans masks and in violation of the recommendation of nearly every medical personnel who has dealt with Covid. For some this will be their last ever Memorial Day. Some won’t live to see the Fourth of July.

“When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.” – Oliver Sacks

Traveling during a time of a pandemic isn’t an easy task. One must think in advance about things like: Where do I get gas? What about eating and drinking on the road? And not just that, what about the pit stops? Are public bathrooms public anymore? How far from one available bathroom to the next? Service Station bathrooms are likely to be closed or hothouses for germs. Perhaps a safer bet would be a walk in the woods.
Of course if you are one of those humans who mock those who take the safeguards against Covid seriously, you probably never think about these things in advance. You probably get into your rig and head off to the most crowded spot you can find be it at the lake, river, beach or mountains. I did see you driving into Central Oregon as I was leaving. Dozens and dozens of you. I saw you walking around town, sans masks, sans distancing, acting like 100,000 deaths meant nothing at all to you. Not your problem. Not your loved ones.
Time to open up America, you ranted.
Last I checked this was a free country, you shouted. I’m not wearing any damn mask.
Okay. Fool. But keep in mind, that freedom you like to claim is yours was bought with the blood of others – those who regarded America as The “United” States, emphasis on united; you who are hellbent on dividing the formerly united.
The New York Times did the right thing. They put the names of all those who have died from Covid on the front page of their Sunday paper. Did you see it?
Names tell us a story that statistics do not.
There’s a difference between saying thousands of men died in Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley during the American War in Vietnam and saying, “My father, David P. Spears, died in Vietnam.”
Walking through graveyards is a favorite past-time of mine. I like to study the names and dates, and think of the history that the people behind the name and dates lived through. What stories did they take to the grave with them? What terrors did they face? What tyrants did they come up against? What did they fear? Whom did they love? Who loved them?
There is a song that I heard on the radio on my drive back home Saturday. I’d heard the same song during our online church service the week prior. It’s a song I used to like but no more.
Perhaps you know it?
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God … 
I’m not the first to take issue with the lyrics. Others have as well. 
If there is one thing I need God to be right now, it is not reckless. Not in any sense of that word.  I’ve had my fill of recklessness as of late. We have a reckless president. A reckless Senate. A reckless Senate Majority Leader.
The reckless actions of voters in 2016 have led to the deaths of 100,000 Americans, a wholesale market on children of color, a rise in hate crimes, an economic downturn and unemployment rate that surpasses that of the Great Depression.
And yet, these same reckless people still refuse to own up to the errors of their ways.
So no, thank you. Being reckless in any form or fashion is the very last thing I need from God right now.
In his last days, Oliver Sacks wrote about how he was unlikely to see his next birthday. It grieved him to leave behind the world, a place of beauty and inspiration, a wondrous place for the thinking and curious soul to explore and inhabit.
Sacks found himself seeking not chaos but rather the order found in the natural world:
“And now, at this juncture, when death is no longer an abstract concept, but a presence — an all-too-close, not-to-be-denied presence — I am again surrounding myself, as I did when I was a boy, with metals and minerals, little emblems of eternity.” 
People who have all the answers in life are no longer curious about much of anything. They hope not in  God, but rather in their Certainty that they are right.
They take a reckless approach to redemption.
Oliver Sacks lived a redeemed life. He treated mankind and the earth with a sense of the sacred and the science that surrounds us:

A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky “powdered with stars” (in Milton’s words). It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how little life, I had left. My sense of the heavens’ beauty, of eternity, was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience — and death.

This Memorial Day let us be especially mindful of the lives gone before us. The sacrifices made, the suffering endured, the stories lived out and those cut way too short.

And may we be ever curious and grateful for all of our days, even during the hard seasons.

 

Karen Spears Zacharias is the author of After the Flag has been Folded (HarperCollins).

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

3 Comments

AF Roger

about 1 month ago

Memorial Day approaches, and I greatly miss my best friend Jack. “He left us,” as his wife said, in March 2009. I will not forget her Sunday morning phone call. Pancreatic cancer finally did what 1,800 hours in a Cobra had not done. It took both his body and his mind. I will never forget Jack. I miss our conversations, his honesty and his insight. I miss the mix of things that he was. I miss the things he taught me, the things he trusted me enough to reveal, things no one else had heard. I miss what he was willing to hear from me. He’d been Army; I was Air Force. That was OK. Jack and I met at aviation mechanic’s school in Dallas, Texas in 1975. He was a new instructor, I a new student. His recommendation led to a job that started a career that shaped my life. For a short time we were co-instructors at Braniff Education Systems and became friends. Then job changes took Jack to Atlanta and me to Portland. We reconnected some years later when business travel took me through Atlanta a number of times. Our friendship grew much deeper. We could talk about anything: aircraft engines, art at the High Museum, music that moved us, raising our daughters, what we thought of our leaders, what we had been reading, what I had been writing, what we hoped for. Not bad for a miner’s son from Arkansas and a yankee farm kid from Nebraska. Jack owned no weapons that I know of. He’d had enough of them. Once when I asked how he was doing, he confided, “When you have killed other human beings, it can be hard to ever think of yourself as a moral person again.” One photograph told me more about that wordlessly than he ever spoke aloud. Jack understood that the best wars were the ones that never happened because people used their heads instead of hardened hearts and fists. I regret being unable to persuade Jack to visit the Wall in Washington, DC with me. He was never ready in life to go there, despite having begun his military service at the Pentagon and loving all that the city offered. He could not go back with the things he carried. His world had changed, and Jack had made peace with it as best he could. Perhaps that’s why he did not tell war stories as if they were memories of summer camp as a kid. Perhaps my memorial poetry served as his voice in small ways. Maybe it was enough. I dedicated a stage drama to him 22 years ago. Jack’s words showed up in a few lines, his soul throughout. I miss Jack and wonder what he would say about our country today—although I think I can imagine. It would send chills up his spine to know that the Commander in Chief has sent an agent to the Pentagon where Jack had first been assigned. The mission? To vet military officers and high ranking civilians for their loyalty to the President. Jack would remind us that our oath of enlistment, like the oath of office, was to the Constitution, not to any human being, party or ideology. Without checks and balances and standards of truth, he would surely observe, we become enemies to ourselves. For the first time in 33 years, there will be no formal Memorial Day Ceremony at the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial next to the Oregon Zoo. The virus did that. We pray it’s safer to gather on Veterans Day instead. Nevertheless, a faithful few will gather to read the 800+ names at 8:00 hours on Monday, May 25. Distancing strongly advised. I hate the distancing of all these years. I will write something new for Jack. I miss you, brother. Welcome home!

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 1 month ago

Thank you, Roger, for sharing your story with all of us. For never forgetting, and for speaking his name. And thank you for faithfully reading all those names...

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AF Roger

about 1 month ago

Glad you found the story of interest. There is quite a back story (of course!) about the way a clerk typist at the Pentagon ended up as a Cobra pilot in Vietnam. War is anything and everything but the simple phrase of "fighting for our freedom". It's the story of why Jack's wing man and hootchmate is on the Wall in DC and Jack isn't. But then, you know about that kind of thing already. Full disclosure: I provided the lists of names for the readers but stayed home myself. At age 73, I still do work outside the home and limit/distance contact with others as much as possible. My wife (71) has more health issues than I do. Catching COVID-19 could be a death sentence for either or both of us. Others read the names, and I'm thankful that they did. No stolen valor on my part.

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