With Memorial Day just barely behind us, there are a few things I’d like to get off my chest. Veterans, for one: some vets think they should get due recognition on Memorial Day as well as the day in November set aside in their name. After all, they are victims, too, from going off to war in some other land and serving our country.
As a Gold Star sister myself, however, I can easily tell you the difference: Memorial Day is to “celebrate” those who didn’t come back. Veterans Day is to celebrate those who did. If veterans took this moment in May to celebrate the fact that they are still breathing, unlike their comrades who aren’t, and take a knee to grace, I’d feel a little more kindly about it.
The confusing word might actually be “celebrate.” In my neighborhood this year there were fireworks three nights running, not long bombasts like on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, but plenty of bright lights and loud sounds. It seems that we’ve come to think that lighting things off and blowing things up puts the perfect touch on any family gathering. I half expected it: there were fireworks this year on Christmas Eve as well. What that says to me is that we have completely lost touch with what the fireworks represent: armaments. Not joy and achievement, but death and destruction.
The bombings these past few weeks in the unholy land should have reminded us. In fact, the Israel-Palestine conflict is a civil war not unlike the one we experienced 160 years ago, a war over land and who has the right to control it, who has the right to say who gets to live there under what kind of rule of law and order. I personally think all wars are land wars in this sense, though we usually have other words floating above that reality trying to explain it differently: religion, ethnicity, culture; aggressions and genocides.
When I was a senior in high school, a little more than half a century ago, I bought my first piece of sheet music. It was “This Land Is Mine” from the movie Exodus. I was moved by the first line to spend some of my hard-earned, dollar-an-hour wages to have the pages that would teach me this song: “This land is mine, God gave this land to me; this brave and ancient land, to me.” In it I heard the need, even more ancient, for land to call your own, a theme I have followed with the rest of my life. The need for a place to lay your head and cook (at least, if not also grow) your own food; a piece of land necessary to survive and live in some kind of stable society, which we social animals need, even the asocial members.
A few years ago I stumbled across another song on a cassette tape I picked up for a quarter at the Pink Ladies Thrift Shop in Exeter. It’s called “Emmanuel” by singer/songwriter Anne Zimmerman, a true Populist living in Kansas. The song’s story is told in the voice of a young Palestinian woman living in the village of Emmanuel. In it we hear the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis, their encroachments on Palestinian land and lifeways, the guns and death that have occurred since Israel was carved out of Palestine. My favorite lines of this song: “I’ve heard it read/ that Emmanuel/ means “God with us”/ (not far, not far)/ But I think both sides/ are as far as hell/ That far, that far/ from Emmanuel.” She ends the song, leaving us hanging on the unresolved dominant chord, with “An eye for an eye and we’ll all be blind…”
I suppose that we Americans will always be divided into two camps: the bombast lovers and gun mongers who celebrate only victories, and the peace-longers and death mourners who try to remind us to count the losses—to land and lives, families and social stability, national wealth and environmental wholeness. But until we come to recognize everyone’s need for a place to lay their heads and cook (if not also grow) their food, a bare-minimum place to call home, we will be at war with each other.
Trudy Wischemann is a “soldier in the army of the Lord” (to quote another song!). You can send her your land battle stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.