Every year about this time, I see water in bottles, in glasses, pouring from the tap, and I start thinking about going down to the river. It's not about fishing, or swimming, or boating, though. I look to the water which connects me to the unspoken heart of our family, the exceptionally unexceptional sailor who lies beneath.
The waters which embraced my father's father on one fateful day are far from those flowing through the heartland where I now live. Still, even in elementary school we learned that water on the surface of this earth, like the air that we breathe, carries itself far and then returns again, slightly changed, in a natural cycle. If it hasn't already done so, a drop of rain may yet fall on my face which once splashed his. And so, I seek the solace of waters near me, passing along a half-understood prayer, hoping the currents will carry it to a place where it will be heard and completed, and the heart renewed. As was Norman MacLean before me, I am haunted by waters.
Nearly seventy years ago (long before I was born), my father's father wore his bell-bottoms proudly and served his nation faithfully to his last breath, going with his ship to the depths of the Pacific surrounding Guadalcanal. My grandfather was not alone in his sacrifice. His generation was rife with real men, men who believed in something greater than themselves, men who believed in faith, nation, service. Too many of those men -- and others of each generation -- saw their days cut short.
Nearly every family has been touched by the loss of somebody who wore a uniform. We suffered a loss, sometimes so obvious that all around us can see the wound, sometimes leaving its scar deep below the surface. But that loss comes with a special gift: we know that we were so loved, they defended us to their last. They gave their all for us, for our freedoms, perhaps even for our souls.
With each of these servicemen (and women) in mind, it doesn't seem terribly fitting to wish others a "happy Memorial Day." I would, though, wish everyone peace on this and every Memorial Day, and I offer loving thanks to those for whom this day is dedicated.
I raise a glass to you -- a glass of clear, clean water.