After a Fashion
Stephen may march to a different drummer's beat, but now he 'gets' Memorial Day
NEVER FORGET I never really examined how I felt about the military. I came of age at the height of the Vietnam War, when families across America had the evening news on as an accompaniment to dinner – "I'll have some genocide with a side of carnage, please." At a time when Texas was still deeply Democratic, I knew very few people who didn't rally against the war. My parents certainly did, my hippie sister did, and so did the cool kids at school. Not really understanding anything about war in general or that war in particular, I followed the popular path and denounced the government and military as warmongering killing machines. For years I did that because it was easier to parrot what I was hearing rather than making an informed choice of my own. But undeniably, I knew people who were in the military (even by choice) who were, like, really cool, man. So that was confusing. I knew more about frocks and finery than I did about how our society functioned. I had knee-jerk Democratic Party responses to the Gulf War and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" – I can't help that. I will be a Democrat until the day I die. Growing up, Memorial Day never meant much to me either. It seemed to commemorate wars that were fought long before I was born, and the holiday itself always seemed to have been co-opted by the far right. But then my nephew Tyler went into the military and was sent to Afghanistan. We'd seen him once after boot camp when he was on leave. He'd certainly bulked up but still seemed to be a gangly kid in a man's uniform. Then he came home last week just in time for Memorial Day. He'd been in Afghanistan for several months, working his patrols and having been involved in his first firefight with at least one enemy casualty. I could imagine that having seen a man die like that was a life-changing experience for Tyler; it made my blood run cold when I heard about it. But what I could not imagine was how it would change him. When I saw him for the first time last week, this sweet, funny, and smart kid that I adored had become a man. Physically he'd grown – taller, leaner, and more muscular. His face had matured, and his eyes showed evidence of having seen things that I couldn't even begin to comprehend. It wasn't like I didn't know him anymore – it was just that the person I knew had evolved on his earthly journey, and I would have to catch up with him and get to know him better. It's such a pleasure to have had him home this Memorial Day. I'm so proud of him and proud of his commitment to the Army. I will be proud the day he comes home for good; if he didn't come home, it would hurt deeply, but I would still be proud that he fought and died over there serving his country. And so at this late date, in my own earthly journey, I've come to truly understand what Memorial Day is all about. It's not about Democrats and Republicans; it's simply about honoring those who have fought for our country. Regardless of whether we approve of the reasons for a war, Memorial Day celebrates those who did the jobs they were committed to do. And I'm so sorry it took me so long to figure that out. So for all of you out there who have or have had friends and family in the military, I hope this was a meaningful Memorial Day for you, and if it's not too late, I'd also like to say thank you to all our soldiers out there, past and present.
BRAVO Congrats to Forrest Preece for being the recipient of the first Forrest Preece Literary Light Award, named after him by Badgerdog (www.badgerdog.org) for his commitment to creative writing instruction and the power of publication for school-age children. Badgerdog's 2011 Literary Salon featured readings by Dominic Smith from his upcoming Bright and Distant Shores and our own literary luminary Sarah Bird, who read from her upcoming novel, The Gap Year. The social titans ruled the night, and Preece attracted many philanthropic heavy-hitters to the Austin Country Club. Preece was roasted, revered, and roundly regaled – just as he should be.