The Post: Memorial Day Reflections on Gifts We Can Give Back

Today is Memorial Day. Not the day for cookouts, but remembrance of gifts given to us by the sacrifice of others. In preparing my teaching for tonight’s meditation class, I thought about what gifts we can give back. I thought about three gifts: Acknowledging. Sending the gift of meditative compassion or prayers. Contemplating how war starts and how peace can be grown, so maybe so many young people will never have to make such sacrifices in the first place.

In acknowledging, we learn about what those men and women have gone through, witnessed, given up, suffered. Maybe we read about it, or hear it from them as we meet them or volunteer at a USO or VA hospital. We can’t fix their suffering. But we listen and walk with them through their struggles, validate their experiences. It takes courage to hear these stories but maybe that’s key to the power of this gift. Validation of someone’s feelings can be a powerful medicine.

Sending compassion or prayers can be even more expansive. I believe those can reach anyone anywhere, and the generosity and good will in them, has no limits. And maybe, just maybe, one of those prayers or thoughts released to the Universe will be directed to someone who’s at the end of their rope: a soldier in a foxhole, a mother at home stressed-out from her husband’s 3rd deployment while she struggles to keep kids and household afloat. Perhaps in that bleak moment, they will feel a moment of comfort and not even know why. Yet maybe it will be the moment of comfort they need to keep going.

In contemplating peace vs. war, there are many leaders to guide us. Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, notes in her book, Practicing Peace in Times of War, that “war and peace start in the hearts of individuals.” She further observes that peace is “softening what is rigid in our hearts,” and that “war is never going to end as long as our hearts are hardened against each other.” Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who lived through the Vietnam War reminds us that “In a time of anger or despair, even if we feel overwhelmed, our love is still there. Our capacity to communicate, forgive, to be compassionate is still there. …We are more than our anger….we do have within us the capacity to love, to understand, to be compassionate, always.”

War seems to come out of struggle that got out of control. A friend shared with me this following meditation line from her Yoga CD, Energy Awareness Meditations, by Sudhir Jonathan Foust, President of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health (track 2):

“Feeling who you are in the absence of struggle.”

(The full guided meditation instruction runs: “Feeling the sensation, feeling the flow of breath, feeling who you are in the absense of struggle, in the radiance of effortlessness.”)

Maybe if we could catch the struggle before it grew huge, if we could remember who we are at our deepest hearts, we could avoid it becoming such a mess. And then we could celebrate Memorial Day without so many hurt and dead.

In our imperfect world, perhaps it will be many lifetimes to achieve such a goal. Still, there are many real gifts that can be given to honor those who sacrifice for us. As I mentioned above, there is always the USO, or VA hospital visits, making quilts, or buying a soldier a meal.

Another unusual but incredibly heartfelt gift comes from this group of artists to the families of those who lost someone in this war. These artists have used their talents to create portraits of those lost servicemen. They take pictures and feedback the family provides, then try to capture not only the likeness, but the heart essence of that person, in the portraits. These are done free of charge for the family.

If you would like to read more about this effort, or to participate should you be an artist, here’s the CNN article from May 23 2008: “Portraits of fallen comfort broken hearts.”

To all who have sacrificed for the rest of us, I simply offer a prayer, and a thank you.

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