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Reflection on Memorial Day, part 1

May 28, 2012

I have been reflecting on loss these days.  Earlier this week, a father of two young children was shot and killed in the crossfire of an armed argument across a busy intersection not far from the hospital where our babies were born.  On Saturday, a friend’s young relative died in a car crash.  Another friend still mourns the loss of her father, five years ago and far too young.  A family friend–my first real boss–is in hospice care, living his last days among beloved and grieving family members.

And yesterday, our neighbor’s cat came home seriously injured from some unknown accident and had to be put to sleep.  It might seem strange to list a deceased cat among people lost, but I loved this little orange striped cat, Trubby (short for Trouble).  He brought happiness to our neighborhood, and now his sweet little face won’t be peering in our back door, as if to say, “This is my house too, right?  Can’t I come in for some of that cat food?”

Most of us–including me, most years–celebrate Memorial Day by grilling, or going to the park, or relishing a day off from work.  Unless we personally know someone who has been killed in military service, it’s easy to stay unconscious, mindless, focusing on sunshine and sales and the onset of summer rather than contemplating the bigger picture.

Today I choose to contemplate.

I don’t do this to be maudlin or morbid.  It makes me sad to even imagine how painful it must be to lose someone I love so intensely.  But it is healing too, the knowledge that this life is all we have.  What we make of it matters.  I make choices in raising my children to give them the best start I possibly can, so they can create their own story and live their own journey.

At the same time, nothing lasts.  All of this will pass away.  Regardless of how good we are or how many mistakes we make, we will all end the same way.  “Out we come,” Tom Stoppard writes in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, “bloodied and squalling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there’s only one direction, and time is its only measure.”

Maybe this is what being mindful means:  to be present in the moment means to bear witness to our be-ing even as we acknowledge its transience.  Maybe being mindful is letting go of the grief over what was and the anxiety about what might be.  It’s holding the joy and the sorrow of this existence cupped in our hands like water we know will slip through our fingers.

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