Decoration Day

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There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in-and out

Stormy Weather And Silver Linings

This Memorial Day is the most painful I’ve ever experienced. In the past, I thought of it as many people seem to; a national holiday weekend, the beginning of summer, time for relaxing and fun, for picnics and parties. It wasn’t always so light-hearted; in the aftermath of the American Civil War, the last Monday in May was declared Decoration Day, a day set aside for families to visit cemeteries and decorate the graves of their beloved lost. It was a solemn time of remembrance and grief for a country deeply, brutally divided, both politically and socioeconomically. Over time, the day became more of a celebration of ancestors, with families gathering at cemeteries with picnics, weeding and tidying up grave plots, planting bulbs and shrubs. Family graves were decorated with flowers, while those of military men and women were honored with American flags, reminders that their lives had been given for our country. This year, it’s painfully clear that our country is as divided as it has ever been, and the national response to the pandemic is driving us further apart instead of pulling us together.

We’ve become such a mobile society that decorating ancestral graves isn’t so easy anymore. We may live hundreds or thousands of miles from family graves, and many families are more loosely connected than in the past. Though honoring ancestors remains a significant tradition in many cultures around the world, many American have lost the rootedness that made decorating family graves feel natural and comforting. Instead, we watch a kleptocrat mouth empty platitudes about honoring our military, then head back to the gold course while the dreadful virus rips through our VA hospitals and care facilities (13,302 affected so far) and affects thousands (8,950) of actively serving members of the military. People, not personnel.

Grieving Honors The Lost

Today, we can also honor nearly 100,000 Americans who have died in the past few months. Killed by the world-changing pandemic, these people’s lives are a heavy price to pay for our national government’s prideful negligence. That’s a lot of suffering, innocent lives cut short in horrible, painful, terrifying ways and so far, the current regime offers more threats, excuses, and challenges than condolences. I’m sick at heart for nearly 250,000 other people around the world who have died in the pandemic. I’m grieving for their families and friends and coworkers too, for everyone affected by this huge disaster. But wait, there’s more! There is increasing evidence that pandemics are encouraged by ecological destruction. When humans destroy habitat, we come into more contact with wild animals, opening the door for zoonatic disease transmission (diseases of animal origin that can jump to people). And shall we add in wet markets and meat processing?

I’m grieving the lost habitat that opens those doors all around the world, making pandemics more likely. I’m grieving the millions of lost plants and animals, too. I’m also grieving the losses of connection and community that give structure to human lives. The more we value privacy and individual rights, the less interest we have in promoting connection or participating in community. Just as habitat destruction can lead to pandemics, the erosion of community cultures opens gateways to addictions and violence, both based in deep fear. Many studies show that addictions and social terrorism are rooted in the lack of connection and community that’s made worse by trauma and major losses. When we are in dire need of connection, we are most likely to end up in a hospital or mental facility, usually with a constantly changing cast of caregivers.

Silver Linings, Golden Light

Humans need to be in community, yet right now, we can’t safely get together in person. We are having to learn to reach out in different ways, making more phone calls, texting and sending pictures, even writing notes and cards and letters (almost a lost art). We are discovering how to navigate the protocols of online meetings in various formats, learning the etiquette of speaking in turn, observing each other more closely, watching to see who’s waiting to speak, who’s drifting off, who’s feeling bereft, who’s checking their phone. We are learning how to pay attention in new ways, how to listen to what is and isn’t being said.

One silver lining to our social isolation is that when we do connect, the conversation often feels deeper and richer than usual. I’m finding myself listening better these days, inviting insights, feelings, and ideas that emerge more freely in slow, unhurried conversations than in quick check-in chats. I’ve been phone-visiting lately with my mom’s sister, hearing funny, sad, and often enlightening family stories that my mother never shared, the kind that explain a LOT. I’m having deeply rewarding conversations with my fellow Trans-parents, the kind where we hesitate and fumble for words, laugh and cry and laugh again, feeling nourished by recognition and strengthened by understanding. I’m finding peace and comfort in remembering that we are all broken, that humans have always been broken, and that sharing brokenness can bring us closer together. I can hear Leonard Cohen right now, singing my favorite song, Anthem; “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” So let there be light.



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3 Responses to Decoration Day

  1. Beckie Byers says:

    Thanks once again for your heartfelt message. We have recently moved to Gig Harbor and are loving it! I have always wanted to visit your beautiful gardens and now we live much closer to you than before. I picked up your wonderful gardening book while in Spokane and learned so much! I know you have moved from the habitat that you highlighted in your book, but I am very happy when I receive a message from you! Take care and know that others feel as you and celebrate this fact of knowing that we are all community.
    Take care, and hope that our paths cross in the near future!

  2. Lauren says:

    Thank you Ann, for your heartfelt grief, finally bringing us around to gifts we may find in all of this.

    I close by adding the first two lines of “Anthem”, a powerful teaching, especially now.

    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in

  3. Beth Rahe Balas says:

    Well said, Ann – thank you for your beautiful writing. I feel your mourning and your hope.

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