This week was the Veteran's Day assembly at Henry's School and I was grateful Stan rearranged his work schedule so we could go together. The whole fifth grade chorus had been preparing for months but it wasn't until the night before that Henry told us he needed to dress up and the morning of that he needed to wear a tie. Stan squeezed his blue dress shirt between the mattress and the box spring to flatten it and mercifully was present to tie the tie. How single mothers or other mothers without irons deal with things like this I will never know.
I cried through the entire 90 minute presentation, pretty much non-stop. First of all, my kid is in his last year of elementary school and though he finds me hopelessly uncool, he still wants me to show up for stuff like this.
Second, the songs. The sweet, high-pitched voices of children as they sang about bravery, honor, war and death. Can't we pretend none of this exists for a few more years, a few more lifetimes? I could barely even recite the Pledge of Allegiance (which in high school I refused to say at all) I was so choked up.
Third, the veterans. The soldiers. The men and women, dads, moms, uncles, grandpas, grandmas and great grandpas in the audience being honored, standing up one by one as their names and ranks and branches of the military and active duty and dates of service were called. World War II became a classmate's sweet, wrinkly, hunched over Pa-Pa. Other family members were assigned to Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq and all of the Operation Freedom Somethings. Each
The big, complicated, layered grief, ambiguity, heroism, hopelessness, tragedy and reality of war sat on my lap as those children sang, as my child sang. The paradox of hating war and loving the people who have given their lives to it stretched my heart to capacity. My husband's father who spoke about Vietnam so rarely and died far too soon, my student's 19 year old son killed in Afghanistan, my sweet cousin in the Coast Guard, our family, some of whom made it out of Europe before the concentration camps, the others who didn't, hundreds, thousands, millions of others who are more than faces, on television, names in a list. I honored everyone who was there and hated that they had to be. I was proud of the children who honored the vets and couldn't help but hope with every fiber of my being that we never, in this way, have to honor them.