Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Company You Keep

I wound up taking yesterday off, which in light of the three-day weekend nature of the Memorial Day holiday, seems a tad excessive. I had the vacation time accrued and can't do anything else with it and I was a bit tired so I cheated and treated myself. It did make me feel a bit like a hypocrite some time when commiserating with a young colleague on Facebook about her work day which started at some point yesterday and runs, as I understand it, through Monday-with a television set that only receives Fox News and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to help her pass the time. What kind of a cruel Deity does that to a person, I wonder.

We had a very hot, for May, day earlier this week in Connecticut with temperatures over 90 degrees but some ferocious thunderstorms swept the skies of humidity and most of the heat and we have had lovely days with more forecast. I invested part of Friday mid-morning to getting in as many of my at-least-10K-a-day steps as I could before visiting a physician late in the afternoon and my hike took me through my neighborhood until I reached the Yantic Cemetery and while most days I just continue elsewhere, yesterday I went in.

I think the Yantic was possibly the first Norwich Cemetery, judging by the size of it, the dates on many of the markers and how crowded it is (I doubt that it's been in regular use since close to the end of the 1940's). On Friday, I had the place pretty much to myself save for the landscaping crews from the Public Works Department (I think). They were cutting grass, trimming between headstones, neatening up the pathways for those who will come by in the next days as part of their observances of Memorial Day. The crews had a supply of American flags to place at the final resting sites of those who had served in uniform.

On the far side, beyond the center rise in the cemetery as you face Backus Hospital (yes, from the windows of the hospital, you can see the cemetery), is a flag pole with the national Ensign at half mast to mark the death earlier this week of Waterford, Connecticut, native son SSG Edwin Rivera from wounds received while serving in Afghanistan.

According to icasualties.org, SSG Rivera is one of nearly 1,100 American service members to die in Operation Enduring Freedom. I visit sites like this on a daily, sometimes obsessively so, basis because too many of us have stopped counting the human cost of being the greatest nation in the history of the planet and have reduced the unknowns' and uncounteds' sacrifices to some glib generalization we break out as a campaign line, 'the ultimate sacrifice' or for a speechy occasion.

Am I the only one who's exhausted that we can do so goddamn many things in the Brave New World of reporting about wartime wounded, captured, missing and killed in action except prevent them from happening? I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about that as I walked between the headstones of some of the soldiers of B Company of the Second Connecticut Volunteers to include a soldier who had died in captivity at Andersonville, the infamous Confederate States' prisoner of war camp, in Georgia. Some of these men had been part of the first wave when President Lincoln called for volunteers for the Union army as the Civil War began.

Many of the headstones indicated many who had died on the same date in the same battle in the course of that very long attempted national suicide but others had survived beyond the war and made lives for themselves and their loved ones in the world that emerged when the abattoir finally closed. I hesitate to call them 'survivors' because they, and all who passed through the crucible of war, no matter which one, are far more than that as we struggle together to work our way out of a rough patch, but can pause, I hope, long enough to remember all those whose blood brought us to this Memorial Day weekend.
-bill kenny

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