On Service: An Allegory

They did not turn their faces from the landscape in the dragon’s gaping maw.

When it came time to fight the dragon, one among them shouted, I will not serve.

He would not submit, but others would, to the lies he commissioned, always dressed in righteous robes.

The fighters went on, the one before them saying, I will.

Those moved by this example said nothing. They did not shout. No trumpets blared.

They did not turn their faces from the landscape in the dragon’s gaping maw. Announcing allegiance to another order, they moved with the quiet conviction of visitors to the dying and the sick. Each tended to another’s wounds and they left no one behind. They brought diapers to new mothers and to orphaned children; soap to the unwashed, clothing to those who had been sticking to their own stink. They shielded the unsheltered from the elements, including fire from the righteous. They brought water to those beginning to hallucinate with thirst. Not food, but meals. Not pretend answers, but real questions to real needs, and the mess of it never left them. They wept often under the strain, and knew joy, too. And in the land of fire with the dying in the dragon’s mouth, there was peace because they were there, offering it where they could. 

Memorare

Your remains rest, your remains unfound. You were decorated, wept over; letters said you were tired, found peace of mind, slept with a pistol on your chest.

You fell at Battle of the Bulge, B-17 missing over the Aleutians; survived Omaha Beach, saved wounded, drowned in frozen seas, in training runs over Yuma, in POW camps in Burma. You volunteered after D-Day, 9/11; died at Iwo Jima, on impact, slowly in a trench; underwater, in midair, in the desert; your family searches still. You loved Tennyson, football, ice cream and Clarion Bells before sunset. You sang in the choir, stepped on a landmine, took fire in Kunar Province, in Afghanistan, Camp Sheehan, Fallujah.

The day you went missing, your son was born.

Your remains rest, your remains unfound. You were decorated, wept over; letters said you were tired, found peace of mind, slept with a pistol on your chest. Folded flags met your mothers, fathers, wives, daughters, sons; “Taps” played, then twenty-one guns.

You were in the glee club, physics, wrestling, the relay; long legs remembered, and dimples; a serious side and how you slept in class. You would be an aeronautics technician, a veterinarian, a teacher; practice medicine, take your son to Mt. Whitney, have dinner on the harbor, swim at the pier, return next football season and for Christmas, to hold your daughter for the first time.

You wrote your favorite Wordsworth lines in a textbook, “Grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.” We gather among remains, looking for more, as the living do, in silent reflection on the unknown of the All that you gave, marking hallowed ground with what we may not name.

Speaking of the nameless, may we remember them too. No sense being stingy with memory, with grief, with all the lost lives that we are taught to call nothing at all. 

Image: Memorare – Manila 1945 Monument, Sculpted by Peter de Guzman
Photo by Joal Perocillo on flickr