Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day from a college town kid

As most of you know, I grew up in Chapel Hill from the early 70s forward.  Being a college town at that time, it was a pretty anti-war, pro-peace place, and this sentiment permeated the culture pretty thoroughly, including our schools.  I don't remember specifics, but I know we weren't humming no Star-Spangled Banner etc. a whole lot. Very little flag-waving. The general attitude towards the armed services was one of suspicion.  It was like they were a foreign country, and there values were, if not quite inimical, then very distant from our own.

If they ever told us what Memorial Day was about, they certainly didn't get their back into it.  It's possible I may have spaced it out once or twice, but 13 years, K-12?  Same deal in college.

So I literally think I got through to adulthood not knowing what Memorial Day was about. Which is a shame, if not downright pathetic. Although I am not a hawk at this point in my life, and may often question specific uses of our military, I tend to do so from a recognition that my perspective on things is far from complete:  if I had wanted to be part of that world and have a more active say in it, I would have made it my career. And I understand much better what the armed services do for us, particularly after having an immersion in things military via Graham's special interest in them, especially World War II.

Here's an anecdote of how far I am from the mindset of members of the armed services.

On September 11, I was at Midtown Manhattan.  I've probably recounted some of this before, so I'll keep it spare. I was up on the 16th floor of my firm's offices, which had windows facing north, east, and west, but not south, towards the towers.  At some point in time, maybe 9:45, I went down to the street and looked down 5th Avenue, and you could see all the way down to the towers.  I could see them burning, obscured in smoke, and as I looked around me and saw people crying and freaking out (as I was), I realized that if I stayed down there watching, I would start smoking again, and I had quit 3 years before.  So I went back upstairs. And my colleagues and I kept touch with goings on around the country by radio.

So we were in shock, in denial.  Since there weren't confirmed reports of death tolls, we kept trying to convince ourselves that maybe few people had died.  At around 4, being hungry, we decided to go out and get food and drinks, and we ended up at a TGI Fridays.  Whatever.  We had some nachos.

And on a TV screen there, they flashed the faces of a couple of firemen, who had died.  And my first thought was, I'm ashamed to say it but it must be said:  "But it's those guys' jobs to go into danger, what about the other people who died?"

There were lots of people, including a family friend who is a NYPD guy, who when they heard of the attacks got on whatever truck they could and got downtown, put themselves at risk.  The First Responders.

I was not amongst them. It didn't cross my mind to do that.  I am not trained to do that, I am not wired to do that.  Is it a fault of my upbringing?  Is it a "social skills deficit" in line with the fact that I've got a kid on the autism spectrum and maybe I've got a little bit of that going on myself?  Or am I just a (insert derogatory epithet here). I don't know.

But there are those that did, who have that wiring, that training, those belief systems, that character.  Many of them lost their lives that day, and on others in far-flung places before and since. We, and I,  owe them a immense debt, and it is meet and right that they should be commemorated with reverence and respect.

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