Memorial Day Weekend
I still recall those weekends in May…and I smile.
(Oh, in case you were wondering, that's me on the right in the flowered Speedos. It was a long, long time ago. Sigh.)
* * *
Time passed. Friends came back from Vietnam (some never returned). The veterans usually sat in isolated groups. They drank their beer, but they talked little. They simply stared at the far horizon, drinking beer after beer after beer after beer, until they passed out under the warming sun, waves lapping at their feet. We knew better than to disturb them. We were quiet in their presence. They knew something we did not.
They knew we weren’t invincible.
Still, Memorial Day weekend remained a time of glowing charcoal grills, soft sand, warm water, friendship, romance and pleasure. Life was good. Our dreams felt real…in fact, they felt as if they were almost within our grasp. We basked in sunlight.
* * *
My friends and I went our separate ways, as we are meant to do. Our naiveté slowly came to be displaced by life’s realities. We didn’t bask in sunshine any longer. We began to dread the shadows. Our dreams somehow came to feel ephemeral. We each lost friends, or parents, or lovers. The weekends never felt as warm as they once did.
Where did the shimmering water go?
* * *
Memorial Day weekends eventually got me to thinking about soldiers…countless soldiers, countless young, despondent and frightened souls. I began to comprehend…slowly, at first…but, deeply now (particularly after this past year). I think of soldiers huddling and suffering in muddy, claustrophobic trenches for years at a time. They scribble their dreams on scraps of paper.
What do they dream, these lonely warriors of ours? They dream of family, lovers and children. With Death just a stray bullet away, a random bomb-blast away, soldiers dream of essential things. They dream of holding the women they love (holding them close…holding them forever), they dream of indulging their children…tousling the hair of the innocent. They dream of opening a door, crossing a threshold and entering a home where love blossoms and darkness bows to light. Their's were simple dreams…but, is it not true, that Heaven can only be found in simple things?
I think of the letters of our Civil War (now there's an oxymoron for you) combatants. They expressed themselves with simple elegance (you may think that’s an oxymoron, but it’s not). I’ve come to understand and revere them. I've finally come to understand their longings, their dreams, and their fundamental needs. I’ve come to understand that, if life were to end today or tomorrow, all I would want is to hold my love in my arms again…if only for a moment. I would yearn to see my love’s radiant face. I would crave to cradle a newborn. I would give anything and everything for one beatific moment of peace and love.
I’ve finally come to understand the forlorn soldier’s yearning.
* * *
It thundered outside my window all afternoon. I can’t explain it, but I’ve always loved thunder and lightning and rain. After sunset, it began to pour. I wanted (absolutely needed) to venture into the storm. I had to find words for the ache I feel.
I was drenched instantly. The lightning flashed and Heaven thundered. And then it came to me: a poem that I have loved for years and years and years…
I raced home, soaked to the bone in Heaven’s tears, to find...and then to offer to you...this poem:
DEAR MEN AND WOMEN
By John Hall Wheelock
In the quiet before cockcrow when the cricket’s
Mandolin falters, when the light of the past
Falling from the high stars yet haunts the earth
And the east quickens, I think of those I love –
Dear men and women no longer with us.
And not in grief or regret merely but rather
With a love that is almost joy I think of them,
Of whom I am part, as they of me, and through whom
I am made more wholly one with the pain and the glory,
The heartbreak at the heart of things.
I have learned it from them at last, who am now grown old
A happy man, that the nature of things is tragic
And meaningful beyond words, that to have lived
Even if once, only once and no more,
Will have been – oh, how truly – worth it.
The years go by: March flows into April,
The sycamore’s delicate tracery puts on
Its tender green; April is August soon;
Autumn, and the raving of insect choirs,
The thud of apples in moonlit orchards;
Till winter brings the slant, windy light again
On shining Manhattan, her towering stone and glass;
And age deepens – oh, much is taken, but one
Dearer than all remains, and life is sweet
Still to the now enlightened spirit.
Doors are opened that never before were opened,
New ways stand open, but quietly one door
Closes, the door to the future; there it is written,
“Thus far and no farther” – there, as at Eden’s gate,
The angel with the fiery sword.
The Eden we dream of, the Eden that lies before us,
The unattainable dream, soon lies behind.
Eden is always yesterday or tomorrow,
There is no way back now but back, back to the past –
The past has become paradise.
And there they dwell, those ineffable presences,
Safe beyond time, rescued from death and change.
Though all be taken, they only shall not be taken –
Immortal, unaging, unaltered, faithful yet
To that lost dream world they inhabit.
Truly, to me they may come no more,
But I to them in reverie and remembrance
Still may return, in me they still live on;
In me they shall have their being, till we together
Darken in the great memory.
Dear eyes of delight, dear youthful tresses, foreheads
Furrowed with age, dear hands of love and care –
Lying awake at dawn, I remember them,
With a love that is almost joy I remember them:
Lost, and all mine, all mine, forever.
* * *
And so, it has come to this...for me...the vagrant (but penitent) pilgrim. I dream of the woman who smells like Heaven…who smells "like angels oughtta." I dream of the woman with the smoldering eyes...the woman who filled me with such incredible delight.
Although I realize my dreams will never come to be incarnate, I know she will always be mine, all mine...forever.