Monday, May 30, 2011

Soldiers and Old People

I have a soft spot for soldiers and old people.

Soldiers and old people have some striking similarities. Old people have weathered a full life. They have experienced things that have scarred and warmed their heart. They have loved and lost. And often at the end of their lives, they find themselves alone. Surrounded by people entrenched in the task of caring for them. Their strengths and gifts slowly and inadvertently forgotten. Soldiers have seen atrocities that will be branded in their minds until they can no longer formulate thoughts. They have lost their best friends while standing by their side. The have accomplished great tasks, their friends and family will never be able to understand. Their heroism on the battle field fades. Their service is slowly and inadvertently forgotten.

I have never been a soldier. And I have never been an old person. That doesn't make me a very good authority on either. But I am an American. And I do know how we treat people. Collectively, we praise ingenuity, hard work, and youth. Soldiers and old people have wisdom, reflection, and experience. This confuses us.

A mother bringing new life into the world is showered with gifts and love. A grandfather lives alone in the house he used to share with his wife of 56 years. A soldier is saluted when heading off to fight. But 25 years after he takes that uniform off he is isolated with his own thoughts. We know how to change the diapers of our babies, but not of our parents. We know how to salute a soldier heading off to war, but not a soldier plagued by alcoholism and post traumatic stress syndrome.

For many of us, when we are confused, we ignore. Maybe there is another solution. Today is Memorial Day. It is a day of remembering. Remembering those we have lost and remembering who those people once were. We can't heal all people. We can't make sense out of the senseless. We can offer kindness. A hug, an hour of time, or a phone call. On Memorial Day, may we remember those we might have forgotten. May we remember them at their best. And give them a squeeze.

Images courtesy of Carl Moser Photography and National Geographic.

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