Dirge without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.
The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Whether or not our loved ones died in active service, we memorialize them with lilies and laurel and roses, but we do not bury the loving memories. On this day, we as a nation remember those who gave their lives in military battle. Every war calls on journalists, authors, pundits and poets to make sense of some portion of it. In order to further my understanding, I recently saw the movie Eye in the Sky, with Helen Mirren. It is a disturbing yet enlightening story of drone warfare. Is there a way toward peace in the world?
Despite the terrible reality of war and despite the certainty of death for all of us, I can only suggest how to rise above it–with love. One by one the light in the eyes of loved ones glimmers in my own. Someday the light in my eyes will dim and others’ eyes will gleam. Against absolute darkness, love and light shine most brightly of all. And though we are seldom resigned to death, we can still smell the fragrant roses.
The summer of 2014 and into early 2015 have brought national and international deaths by violence. Every day some part of the world is wracked by violence over which most of us have little control. In that context I offer this reflection:
Uncertain, unclear, unsure–
The latest news about (fill in the blank) breaks my heart. I am a woman of privilege who was born into a middle class white family in a white neighborhood. Life has not been completely rosy. Childhood abuse, the deaths of loved ones, divorce, and depression were usually followed by therapy or medication–another sign of privilege for sure, since I had to belong a system that made remedies available, affordable, and acceptable to my cultural group. For less serious anxieties I learned meditation. Benefits arose from paying attention to my breath and to the present moment. I could regain equilibrium and go on about my business.
But watch the news; see how fast social media churn up nastiness and ignorance; witness insults and put-downs pawned off as humor. No amount of meditation makes it go away. War, jihad, racism, bullying, systems of oppression all seem impossible to address. What can I do anyway?
Then I remember the children and adults who have no choice but to do something for survival. They have no choice but to live inside a system that’s designed to keep them silent and out of sight.
- Teachers and students kidnapped or killed because they value education.
- Families in underground bunkers because of bombs that level neighborhoods.
- Domestic partners and children abused by those who claim to love them.
- Minorities threatened and killed because of skin color, religion, or national origin.
- Refugees who cross borders to escape war or financial ruin.
- (Fill in the blank.)
History repeats itself and all we can do is wring our hands? NO! That’s not good enough!
If I am remotely worthy of the privilege gained by my white skin and U.S. citizenship, I can stand up; speak out; swap safety for courage. It’s time to step forward in solidarity with those who have no choice.