Over the past months since Ash Wednesday we have had occasion to mentioned the nearness of death to each of us as well as our consciousness of it. The recent advent of the coronavirus has impressed on us the former and today we hope to honor the latter in a specific way. It is on this national day of remembrance that we are asked to reflect on the deaths of those who served in the armed forces of our country. Since the end of the draft almost 50 years ago very few of us have had any personal contact with military service and even fewer have been touched by the death in combat of someone we personally knew. So we depend on hearing the stories of those whose lives were lost in the wars our country has fought. The movies and stories depicting the bloody battles from Lexington and Concord to the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq highlight, often in gruesome detail, of the deaths of America’s soldiers, sailors and airmen and women can assist us in this.
However, on this Memorial Day I offer the Thomas Merton poem “For My Brother – Missing in Action 1943“:
Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb;
And if I cannot eat my bread,
My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heat I find no water for my thirst,
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveller.
Where, in what desolate and smokey country,
Lies your poor body, lost and dead?
And in what landscape of disaster
Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?
Come, in my labor find a resting place
And in my sorrows lay your head,
Or rather take my life and blood
And buy yourself a better bed
-Or take my breath and take my death
And buy yourself a better rest.
When all the men of war are shot
And flags have fallen into dust,
Your cross and mine shall tell men still
Christ died on each, for both of us.
For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring:
The money of Whose tears shall fall
Into your weak and friendless hand,
And buy you back to your own land:
The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: they call you home.