Memorial Day presents us with an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice by those serving in our military, as well as their family members. We don’t always do this–at times I have been as guilty as the next person, focusing on barbecues and family gatherings instead of what the day truly stands for. In our time it has become easy to forget that our country is engaged in two wars and countless other conflicts where men and women put their lives on the line. And while we mostly live our lives without experiencing any direct impact from those wars, the soldiers who serve and the families who support them bear the full brunt for us, and for that we should all be grateful.
I think Robert Frost’s poem, Not To Keep, captures this burden painfully well. On the eve of Memorial Day weekend, with so many soldiers today serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, many losing their lives and still others experiencing lasting psychological trauma, we should all keep in mind those on the front lines and their loved ones at home who share these remarkable people with us.
They sent him back to her. The letter came
Saying… And she could have him. And before
She could be sure there was no hidden ill
Under the formal writing, he was in her sight,
Living. They gave him back to her alive-
How else? They are not known to send the dead-
And not disfigured visibly. His face?
His hands? She had to look, and ask,
“What was it, dear?” And she had given all
And still she had all-they had-they the lucky!
Wasn’t she glad now? Everything seemed won,
And all the rest for them permissible ease.
She had to ask, “What was it, dear?”
Yet not enough. A bullet through and through,
High in the breast. Nothing but what good care
And medicine and rest, and you a week,
Can cure me of to go again.” The same
Grim giving to do over for them both.
She dared no more than ask him with her eyes
How was it with him for a second trial.
And with his eyes he asked her not to ask.
They had given him back to her, but not to keep.