Monday, May 28, 2018

memorializing the living

I am a walking contradiction.

I claim to admire conservative principles, but I am a bit uncomfortable around the tapestry of the secular civil rites of America.

Several years ago, a fellow Air Force attorney and I were standing in the shade of a chestnut tree (and our own cynicism) making wise cracks about the inanity of the change of 
command ceremony that was playing out on the overheated quad in front of us. We congratulated ourselves on having the good sense not to have joined one of the hidebound traditional military services -- like the Navy.

In his introduction to Did You Ever See a Dream Walking: American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century, William F. Buckley wrote what I thought at the time, in the early 1970s, was a very odd sentence. "I am not conservative by temperament." I had no idea what he meant. How could a person espouse conservative principles and not be conservative by temperament?

It took getting several years of mileage on my Adidas before I understood the wisdom of that sentence. One could be a conservative and still be open to other ideas and other people. To be, in an old-fashioned conservative virtue, civil to those we meet. After all, it was Bill Buckley who said 99 out of a hundred people are interesting -- and the other is interesting because he is different.

Today is Memorial Day -- the day we honor those who died in the service of defending our liberties.

Last night, I watched Gary Oldman's portrayal of Winston Churchill (another man of conservative principles who did not have a conservative temperament) in The Darkest Hour. Even though the film is about the decision Churchill, as the political leader of Britain, had to make in whether to sue for peace or to fight on to the end, it is a perfect example of one of the watershed moments of history where the liberal tradition of freedom stood up against the brutal evil of tyranny (evidenced in naziism, and, later, in the flip side of the same coin, communism).

Politicians made brave choices -- and young men then carried out those policies. Many of them dying in a war not of their choosing, but risking their lives for a cause greater than themselves.

I thought the importance of this weekend while attending the memorial service for my aunt on Friday (goodnight, gracie). My cousin, Dennis, played on his violin an old hymn favored by soloists -- "His Eye is on the Sparrow."

That song always reminds me of one of Anne Lamott's best essays, "Knocking on Heaven's Door." She recalls a moment of miraculous grace in her church where irreconcilable people found peace through music and grace. The music was "His Eye is on the Sparrow." That same type of reconciliation is woven into the events of a flight where the passengers, who have differing religious and political views, find the common ground of their humanity.

Lamott ends her essay with a brilliant flourish:

I thought to myself, I do not know if what happened at church was an honest to God little miracle, and I don't know if there has been another one here, the smallest possible sort, the size of a tiny bird, but I felt like I was sitting with my cousins on a plane eight miles up, a plane that was going to make it home; and it made me so happy that I suddenly thought, this is plenty of miracle for me to rest in now.
As America honors the soldiers who have fallen in its service, we need to remember why did they what they did, and how we should follow their example, not only by cherishing our liberties, but putting them into action by finding what binds us together as a nation. That alone would be a small miracle.

Listening to Anne Lamott's essay would not be a bad start.

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