MEMORIAL DAY — My brain is just exploding this morning with emotions about Memorial Day, and I have to get some of them down or I will lose what’s left of my mind.
Saturday night I was in Arlington, Virginia, at the annual meeting of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. This is a fine group founded by Bonnie Carroll to get widows, widowers, mothers, fathers, and children of men and women who have died in the war on terrorism together. Last year I spoke and there were about 500 people in the audience. Saturday there were 700.
Bonnie Carroll, a stone genius, spoke gloriously. Magnificently. An angel of oratory. A staggeringly beautiful woman named Joanne Wrobleski, who had just been married to her husband for two years, spoke with power and rage and healing as a projector showed photos of her wedding to her astonishingly handsome husband. It was enough to melt a marble pillar.
A woman next to me named Mrs. Beard told about losing her son, Bradley. I asked her if she worked at a job. She said she used to be a bank teller, “but that after I lost my son, counting people’s money didn’t seem that important anymore.” Her husband, a homebuilder, looked distraught. Their beautiful daughter played the piano and sang songs she had composed of peace and loss.
At every table, we passed around boxes of Kleenex continuously.
I spoke briefly and talked about how the loved ones missing from this dinner were the only people doing meaningful work in the world today as far as I could tell. The media try to tell us their work has no meaning, and when the media do this, it’s almost like grave robbing.
Anyway, I spoke and then I hugged widows and bereft mothers for about an hour and a half. A man named Nolan Rappaport who has been a close friend since 1956 accompanied me and took photos. He was very patient and when I thanked him for his patience, he said, poetically, “I don’t feel as if the time was lost.”
When I got back to Los Angeles, I started to read a book I can’t finish, called A Writer at War by Vassily Grossman, a correspondent with the Red Army newspaper during World War II.
The part I can’t get past is the atrocities of the Germans towards the Jews when they took the Ukraine in the early part of World War II. One incident just haunts me every day.
The Germans came upon a kosher butcher. They asked him if he were really a good butcher. He said he hoped he was. They brought his two small sons to him and said, “Show us. On your sons.”
I keep putting the book down at this point and wondering, “Why did God bother making creatures as wicked as man?”
Then I picked up a book of interviews with Bob Dylan. They were interesting. He’s a clever con man and huckster and poet of the obscure and sometimes the meaningless. It’s called The Essential Bob Dylan Interviews, edited by a man named Jonathan Cott. I recommend it. I also have with me a book called Heart of a Hawk about coping with losing a son in Iraq. It’s by a woman I met at the event on Saturday, a lovely soul named Deb Tainsh. I have already read it and it’s major stuff about loss and faith and pain.
And I thought, well, here’s Bob Dylan, making jokes and making fun of his interviewers and he’s a Jew. And here I am sitting at my computer with my dogs snoring nearby and my palm trees and my bottled water. And I’m a Jew. And why do we — Jews and Gentiles here in America — get to do what we do instead of being killed by the Nazis or the Islamic terrorists?
Because of Bonnie Carroll’s husband and Bonnie Carroll. Because of Joanne Wrobleski and her hero husband. Because of all of the men and women at Arlington National Cemetery and on ocean floors and blown to bits in forests and muddy trenches. Because God made Eichmann, but he also made Bradley Beard and Dale Denman, Jr.
More are dying as we speak every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How do we ever make it up to them? How can we ever pay them back? Above all, by taking the loved ones they left behind into our arms, into our hearts, and loving them forever. And by making sure that when they die, their deaths are known to have meaning.
We would be nothing without them. Nothing. And somehow I feel as if my brain were still on fire.