Celebration and lament

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(Host) Commentator Frank Bryan’s Memorial Day thoughts are nostalgic – with a bittersweet tang.

(Bryan) My earliest recollections of Memorial Day were fashioned on by the great oxbows of the Connecticut River in the little town of Newbury, Vermont. Oddly these memories go back, not to the lilac days of late May but to the slush and ice of early March when year after year some old man would stand at town meeting and ask that Article Three to spend $150.00 for the observance of Memorial Day be approved. It was. Without dissent.

For me Memorial Day was always fun. There was celebration in the air. Adults would become preoccupied with the holiday and in that vacuum we kids found ways to raise a bit more hell than usual. Besides, Memorial Day signaled the end of the school year and back then (without adults laying in wait to organize our lives for this or that future purpose) summer stretched before us like an unending dream.

And there were parades. Tiny little parades with bicycles and farm wagons and groups of adults that would walk by waving at us for no apparent reason and flags. In Newbury’s northern village of Wells River we saw more. There the parade was a joint venture with Woodsville, New Hampshire. Now came men in uniform marching by. Now baton twirlers stepped their way past; now the sounds of a marching band. A live marching band was excelsior to us country kids the cadence of real drums, the call of brass instruments, the melody of the flutes. “When Johnny comes marching home again, hooray, hooray!”

But that was long ago. Now I realize that so much of life is like the unfolding of a cruel oxymoron whereby contradictions are camouflaged with hope and melancholy is masked with celebration. And sometimes Johnny doesn’t come marching home.

Memorial Day, it seems to me, is both a celebration and a lament. We celebrate, we honor, we remember humankind’s greatest of attributes, the one thing that separates us from all other creatures, the fact that some, when called upon to give their lives for others, will do so.

Courage, honor, bravery – what Hemmingway called the capacity to suspend the imagination. These are real and they are sacred. And yes, they are represented by flowing stars and stripes of the United States of America. At the same time there is sadness the air. We come together on Memorial Day in part to perpetuate this most human of contradictions: hope and death. But most of all it is because we choose to honor the very best of us those that died so that we could continue to hope that no more sacrifices need be made.

This is Frank Bryan in Starksboro.

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