It turned out it was the afternoon of the day my father died. Mid-afternoon. He died about six hours later. Leaving my mother in the house with my dad (he was lying alone in his bed), my throat tight, I walked through the nearby town cemetery to get away for a few minutes. Head down, thinking, weeping, braced against the Pennsylvania early March wind gusting under leaden clouds, I felt cold.
As I walked back toward the house, at the edge of the cemetery, I happened to look up. I saw a name on a head stone. “Jonathan Chase.” I knew it was the Jon Chase I’d known because of the birth date and the guitar carved into the head stone. Early in high school, we’d been in a garage band that was fun and never went anywhere. Jon played lead guitar. I sang. The head stone indicated that he’d died, killed in action serving in the military, three years after we’d graduated high school. I hadn’t known. “How could that be?”, I wondered, now feeling a second loss. “How could that be? He was such a nice kid.”
I think of him every year on Memorial Day. My father, Jon, dozens of others of others I’ve known, now passed, who either served or didn’t serve in the military, and who influenced my life path with a lesson, a word, an hour or hours of time.
I lived in Concord, Massachusetts for a while. When I lived in Concord, in an annual Town Square Memorial Day ceremony, two high school students read the names of Concord residents who died in military service for our country. I went most years to listen. I didn’t recognize any specific names; I recognized names of families who had lived in Concord for decades. Some of their family names appear on the Civil War Memorial in front of which the high school students stood to read.
Each year, as the students finished reading the names and a bugler played Taps and the Concord Minute Men fired their musket volley over the nearby church cemetery, I struggled to swallow. While I might have agreed or disagreed with the political aims that committed them to combat at any given time, it was hard to consider the consequences of their service. “Grateful”, as a response, seemed inadequate. “Thank you” fell short. It was wrenching to consider their lives lost and families grieving. I’m not good with goodbyes on a good day.
We are an unusual country in many respects one of which is that Memorial Day is seen as the joyous beginning to the New England summer season, our few fair months of good weather, while, at the same time, for many, it’s a somber weekend to reflect and remember those who served, those who now serve, and those who guided and supported us along the way, all the while wondering why we, as a human race, continue to arm and send our young to kill each other.
Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.
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