Yesterday I joined the movement to Wear Blue on Memorial Day and log miles with Run to Remember. 6,808 American servicemembers have been lost to the War on Terrorism since its inception. Most of us have pretty strong opinions on the War. But lives are lives. Families of those lives are families of those lives. Running has for me been a way of blowing off steam and retraining myself to, when I get angry, use that energy for something productive, a healthy activity, rather than hurting another person. So I took the sadness I felt in reflecting on lives lost and put it in my body out on the pavement.
I dressed in blue from head to toe, literally. I hoped somebody who saw me running along the road might notice the stars on my head and perhaps put two and two together about all the blue patriotism and perhaps look up “blue on Memorial Day” and find something about the runners across the country running in remembrance. I’m not trying to stomp on anyone’s Memorial Day party at all — but as the granddaughter of two servicemen, I could easily not be alive today had any one of the several wars my grandfathers served in taken one of them. So when it comes to honoring the troops, my heart is not only with the memories of the fallen, but for their families at home praying for them that never saw them return.
I hate war. I hate violence. I hate the things that have caused wars — oppression and terrorism and hunger for power and racism and religious zeal and money and thirst for supremacy. I hate when there seems to be no other alternative for war, or when violence is matched with violence because whoever in defense mode has no other option or can’t think of an alternative.
I thought about all of this as I ran. It is sometimes hard for me to quell my own anger, as there is a lot of injustice in this world. I sometimes wonder why other people aren’t more angry — I can only figure they are closing their eyes to the injustices of the world or have a really, really great yoga practice down. When it comes to fight or flight, I have been the “fighter” in my family my whole life. As the most compulsive arguer in our family, I grew up identifying myself as a “cry baby,” “having a temper,” “pushy.” I also grew up with only brothers, and “play fighting” was a regular activity. I grew up receiving a good mix of learning how to fight back physically and verbally, as well as being expected to be more polite, quieter, more obedient than I could really ever manage.
I can count one hand the number of people I’ve physically hit since growing up past the days of rough housing with my brothers. And every one of those times (except for the one where I bitchslapped a guy for pinching my ass as I walked by), I cringe that I had a violent reaction. Many of our vets that do make it home spend the rest of their lives experiencing PTSD from the combat they witnessed. And yet there are people who can conduct and inflict mass murders without blinking an eye.
I know those people in the last category are a small, small minority of the population, and that the rest of us who carry out their orders or are influenced into violent acts are simply not thinking as clearly and as lucidly and as calmly as we are capable, as human beings, of doing. But Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, bin Laden… those depraved men needed perfectly sane people to do just that – not think clearly – to carry out their wars. They needed and counted on normal people to not take a stand and to follow the crowd.
As the crowd, please, let’s stand in the way of depravity, not follow it.
Martin Richard, above, was killed at the Boston Marathon in 2013. He was 8 years old. This is his legacy.
It starts as individuals. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Don’t turn off the television when a story about an attack runs — let yourself feel pain, let the pain remind you what you would not wish on your worst enemy. Allow yourself to feel as a human. Let’s not fight fire with fire — the band-aid answer might be “concealed carry,” “fight back,” but the preventive medicine is “lead by example.”
I have been angry and hurtful enough in my short life. In the mortification at myself that followed my angriest, meanest moments, I’ve let myself feel that pain. Some of those times have taken years for me to admit I was wrong to be hurtful in those moments. Now every time I start to feel angry again, it gets a little bit easier to remind myself how it feels to do a mean thing. I don’t always succeed. I don’t always triumph in love over hate. I do try to apologize.
But when we were little my mother took my brothers and me into the bathroom, gave us each a tube of toothpaste, and told us to go to town. Squeeze all the toothpaste out of the bottles all over the counter. We had a ball. Soon the counter was covered in paste.
“Okay, now put it all back in.”
Silence. Of course, what was out was out. It could not be taken back.
I don’t want to be remembered as the kind of fighter who fights with guns or fists. I want to be a fighter who fights with love and ideas and education and more love.
What we do and say in our lives is what we leave behind in memorial to ourselves. I’d like my own future Memorial Day to be free of any memories of violence.