Cookouts! Barbecue. Hot dogs and hamburgers. Beer. Friends and family. Unofficial start of summer. Hell yeah! That’s what Memorial Day is all about. Oh and, of course, the Memorial Day sale at Macy’s. Right?
Then there’s those people who try to remind you of the more sober aspects of the holiday. Sanctimoniously thanking ‘our’ soldiers. Does that really stick with you or are they just as annoying as the people at Christmas telling us all to remember the spirit of Christmas and that Christ ‘our’ savior was born on Christmas Day?
So they had this event down at a new memorial in Irvine for service men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I saw it on the 11 o’clock news. The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial looks really nice and is said to be the first of its kind in the country honoring those who have fallen in the wars on terrorism we’ve been fighting for the last eleven or so years.
But they’ve got this open mic thing going. And the wives and mothers of those who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan come up to the mic and, if you didn’t see it, I’m telling you these women are just fucking raw. All are emotional but more than a few can barely get their words out; they’re just dying up there.
Blubbering women. Most of them young enough to be my daughter, if I’d had one. Talking about what they feel on Memorial Day.
While these women are stepping up to the mic, one at a time, to tell you the names of their husbands and sons and what happened to them – as best as they can between the sniveling and gasping and choked-off words – all over this country, millions of Americans are getting drunk, washing down burgers with Bud Lite, laughing the day away talking easily about everything that careless partying Americans talk about on a summer holiday together. Most Americans are having a good time, a welcome day off from work, celebrating the start of summer and vacation time – which is and always has been the real point of Memorial Day in our culture.
A really young woman steps up to the mic in Irvine. Her two hands are in a wrestling match with each other as she speaks.
“My name is Brooke Singer and my husband was killed in January.”
Brooke looks to be about 22. She’s wearing a pretty black dress with nickle-sized white polka dots and spaghetti straps that cut into the soft skin of her shoulders. She seems to have more to say but after that one sentence she puts the back of her right hand to her face and unsuccessfully tries to stifle a sob. You can see her hand is shaking. She drops it momentarily but then quickly raises it back again to cover her mouth, which is contorted in a way she’d probably rather the entire world doesn’t see. A girl who looks like she could be Brooke’s younger sister stands helplessly to her left. A woman who must be her mother puts her arm on Brooke’s back and whispers something to her.
If you need to be told at this point that Memorial Day isn’t about cookouts and really good shopping then I don’t know what to say to you except that you’re not alone.
But if you still think it’s about thanking ‘our’ soldiers and telling them how much we love them and appreciate what they’re doing for us then you really need to either wake up or grow up or maybe just look up the word ‘memorial’ in a dictionary.
Memorial Day is about looking squarely and responsibly at young women who can barely breathe as they muster the courage to stand before a microphone in a public square and choke out the names of their dead husbands.
Film images made with a Leica M7 and 50mm 2.0 Leica Summicron lens.