Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Memorial Day

In America, Memorial Day felt more . . . remote.

I didn't know anyone in the military. No one. I think I once met a guy at a Shabbat meal who was serving in the American army. Other than that, no one. None of my Irish-Catholic neighbors served, none of my Jewish friends. I didn't know anyone in college or in any of my many jobs whom I knew to be a vet. America is huge, and though its military is also huge beyond imagination, it is still possible to live there for 30 years and never know a soldier personally.

On Memorial Day we'd enjoy our day off, maybe watch a wreath-laying ceremony on television, and cluck-cluck over how sad it is, seeing the parents of fallen soldiers, isn't that terrible, the poor people, and then we'd go back to reading the paper, studying for AP exams, or going on a picnic. Memorial Day was something nice we did to give people who had lost family members a chance to visit the cemetary and feel they'd been honored, but it didn't touch me. It was something for other people, the people whose kids are soldiers, or were.

It didn't help that the wars were far away. At least, until 9/11, the military seemed like something we needed in order to help out other countries or just our own interests. It had nothing to do, really, with protecting us. Even now, for all the genuine concern that most Americans have about what is going on in Iraq, Iraq is just so far. It's another world, an alien world, and most Americans think of it as just a war zone, not a place where people have a culture and lives and take their kids to school every day and wonder when the grocer's next shipment of garlic powder will come in.

Today is Memorial Day in Israel, and I have to admit that I have no special plans. I'm swamped with work, so I'm staying home to write. But . . . it's not exactly like the days of yore when I spent Memorial Day studying for AP exams. Here, the war is in the air. It's in our backyard. It's in the fact that yesterday, when I saw and heard military planes overhead, I was worried enough about my safety that I called a friend to see if anything unusual was going on. It's immediate.

Here, almost everyone I know has served in the army, or will, or has a child who did, or will. My grocer, my hairstylist, my second cousins, my ex-boyfriend, my second cousin's girlfriend, my downstairs neighbor, the mashgiach ruchani of the school where I take classes, my friend's husband . . . all have given at least three years of their lives (most of them more) to protecting this country. To protecting me. My American friends with the 16-year-old son . . . in two years he'll be in an olive uniform. And someday, if I ever have a son, he'll most likely serve in the army as well.

So here, when I read about this year's wreath-laying ceremony in the news, I don't just cluck-cluck. I stop and really feel for these people. Their pain could have been the pain of anyone I know. And it could yet be my pain or the pain of a friend. The Goodmans, an American immigrant family whose son Yosef died in a tragic parachuting accident last February, could, God forbid, be me in 20 years. It is not out of the question. I honor their grief, because someday I might, God forbid, need to know that someone is honoring mine.

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