Posted in Issues

Memorial Day 2008

I have to admit that I have a bit of whiplash this Memorial Day. I woke up, watched John McCain on CNN, then went to two events.

First, I attended the City of Pasadena’s Memorial Day event in the aptly named Memorial Park. Memorial Park has been so named for the last 100+ years. A statue commemorating a fallen Civil War Union soldier was installed there in 1906 (you can see a photo here). The Pasadena Public Library used to be at the site; it moved to the present location with the construction of the Civic Center area in the 1920’s.

With deep apologies for the poor quality of this photo:

(Duh. It’s Pasadena, The media are here.) You can just make out Mayor Bogaard in the upper left hand corner (fourth from left, gray jacket) shaking hands with Teresa Lamb-Simpson, one of Adam Schiff’s field reps. To the left of them is Interim CM Melekian (on the far left) shaking hands with James Maddox of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who helped organize the event. The five white banners on the stage commemorate the five residents of Pasadena who died in Iraq/Afghanistan in the past year. It was a heartfelt, if brief, commemoration.

It got me to thinking about not just the dead soldiers, but the ones who return to us with a part of themselves dead. Perhaps it’s that permanent sense of loss that comes from losing a fellow soldier, or the trauma of war itself that irrevocably changes a person.

I then went over to All Saints Church for an event called ‘The Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative’ (you have to scroll down to May 26 to read about it). I liked the inter-faith nature of the event. It was an opportunity to air theological questions along the lines of “How much do we create God in our own image to suit our purposes?” and “If we are made in God’s likeness, why are we so terrible to one another?” Clearly, this event was not designed to hash these things out, but at least they received some air time.

While Abraham and God received top billing throughout the proceedings, not much mention was made of Sarah or Hagar. Now there’s a story—grief, infertility, jealousy, cynicism. The story of Abraham’s family is very human and messy indeed.

Note that Charleton Heston never played Abraham, only Moses. George C. Scott played Abraham (no doubt with his usual grittiness) in John Huston’s The Bible: In the Beginning… which I don’t think I’ve seen but my namesake Ava Gardener plays that conniving bitch Sarah (well, I imagine that’s what Hagar would say). Sarah’s got her version of the story too.

And thus we are completely off topic with Memorial Day.

The upshot of the whole thing for me was feeling like I have commemorated Memorial Day from both ends of the political spectrum (hence the whiplash). Plenty of talk about sacrifice and the importance of peace at both events, but each coming from a particular political starting point. In these high stakes times, it seems that none of us can escape our own politics for one day to honor the dead.

After all, we’re only human.

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PS – Anyone know the whereabouts of Pasadena’s peripatetic Vietnam Vets Memorial?

PPS – Highlight of my television viewing weekend? No, not The Recount – though I will watch it eventually. No, it was the Truman episodes of the American Experience series The Presidents. Narrated by Jason Robards, no less. En serio, people, my American history education is sorely lacking, especially WWII and beyond. When you aren’t sure about the difference between MacArthur and McCarthy, you’re in trouble. But their onomatopoeia isn’t entirely out of line with their politics.