You know how sometimes you sort of come to the realization that somehow you’ve changed; somehow. It just sort of happens gradually, sneaking up on you, like getting older, gradually, maybe you don’t even know its happening.
Then there are those times that something happens and you are changed more suddenly, like when you’re first married, or your first child is born, or you have your chest sawed open to fix an issue or two.
Last week we went on a roadtrip through the south: Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. On our trip we toured the Civil Rights Institue and museum in Birmingham. We visited the Carter Center in Atlanta, a museum and the presidential library of President Jimmy Carter. Then we toured the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia, with our son/soldier.
“When I consider the small space I occupy, which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here?” —Pascal, Pensees, 68
Each of these museums marked seminal moments of my coming of age. With roots in the south and being from Tulsa, Oklahoma, I grew up seeing the ugliness of racism. One of my first jobs was driving a school bus for the Tulsa Public Schools during the integration of schools. My route included picking up black children in north Tulsa before daybreak and driving them miles and miles south to the “white” schools. I hated the unfairness of it but had no better solution to offer.
I really believe Jimmy Carter meant well. I believe he had integrity and compassion. You can still see it in the way he lives his life to this day. I applaud his fairly recent commentary condemning the narrow, blind, dogmatic view of women in much of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Infantry Museum was sublime. It was breathtaking—not necessarily in the sense of seeing something awe-inspiring, like Multnomah Falls or the Grand Canyon; more like breath-taking when you have the air knocked out of you. The message is overwhelming: the cost of war in terms of young lives is too high. The price of freedom is incomprehensible.
We saw pictures and artifacts from all the wars like World War II in which my father served; the war of my generation, the Vietnam War, a war in which my only involvement was to protest it. And now standing with my son in his army uniform, trained and willing to serve in whatever hellish movement is bubbling up now.
I am so proud of him and so grateful for his service and the service of those who have gone before and those who will take the oath next. I am also afraid.
I wish you could have been with us when he and those of his company said the Soldier’s Creed in unison at the tops of their voices:
I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
I WILL ALWAYS PLACE THE MISSION FIRST.
I WILL NEVER ACCEPT DEFEAT.
I WILL NEVER QUIT.
I WILL NEVER LEAVE A FALLEN COMRADE.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment, and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.
All of this has changed me somehow. This Memorial Day is different than any I’ve lived before. It is more than a day off work and an excuse to throw some burgers on the grill.
Maybe I’m still “coming of age.” Maybe there’s hope for me yet.