Friday, September 23, 2005


A Eulogy for the Fallen

Carl Sandberg reflected on the timeless quality of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in his masterwork, Abraham Lincoln, and in so doing rendered a fitting eulogy to those many Soldiers and Airmen and Sailors and Marines, who over the years have fallen that their fellow citizens might remain free:
In many a country cottage over the land, a tall old clock in a quiet corner told time in a tick-tock deliberation. Whether the or4chard branches hung with pink spray blossoms or icicles of sleet, whether the outside news was seedtime or harvest, rain or drouth, births or deaths, the swing of the pendulum was right and left and right and left in a tick-tock deliberation.

The face and the dial of the clock had known the eyes of a boy who listened to its tick-tock and learned to read its minute and hour hands. And the boy had seen years measured off by the swinging pendulum, had grown to man size, had gone away. And the people in the cottage knew that the clock would stand there and the boy would never again come into the room and look at the clock with the query, “What is the time?”

In a row of graves of the Unidentified the boy would sleep long in the dedicated final resting place at Gettysburg. Why he had gone away and why he would never come back had roots in some mystery of flags and drums, of national fate in which individuals sink as in a deep sea, of men swallowed and vanished in a man-made storm of smoke and steel.

The mystery deepened and moved with ancient music and inviolable consolation because a solemn Man of Authority had stood at the graves of the Unidentified and spoken the words “We can not consecrate – we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract…from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

To the backward and forward pendulum swing of a tall old clock in a quiet corner they might read those cadenced words while outside the windows the first flurry of snow blew across the orchard and down over the meadow, the beginnings of winter in a gun-metal gloaming to be later arched with a star-flung sky.
Time stands still for no man. We march, each of us, through the endless pendulum swings of eternity, here to mark the time for such a brief moment.

What do we live for? What will we die for, if given the chance? It may be that those we leave behind may linger in bitterness and sorrow. It may even be that some would plead with their Creator, and bargain at the end, if offered, and trade their fate with some other poor soul.

In despair, King David cried out to God,
46 How long, LORD?
Will You hide Yourself forever?
Will Your wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember how short my time is;
For what futility have You created all the children of men?
48 What man can live and not see death?
Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave? Selah
(Psalm 89:46-48)
Well it might have seemed to those who mourned the over 600,000 dead in the Civil War, that their God had forsaken their nation. Brother fought against brother, neighbor against neighbor, Americans all, locked in a death grip for 4 long years.

We mourn just over 1,900 in Iraq, and there are those who would walk away from the sacrifices already made, dismiss the liberation of 50 million souls as collateral benefit of a nevertheless unnecessary war. They’d be wrong, but it’s deeply understandable that those of suffer most, lose all, or lose their best, might lose heart, and faith.

No generation has a monopoly on Wisdom, nor perfect foresight, nor absolute moral anything like clarity, let alone authority. It may be that Saddam might never have gotten his long sought Nuke, might never have again used his chemical munitions, might never again have attacked his neighbors, might suddenly have been rebuffed in his many attempts to influence terrorist organizations to “partner up” for shared objectives. He might also have stopped funding Palestinian bombers of Israeli civilians, too. Eventually, the Iraqis might have suddenly stumbled upon democracy, maybe without too many more thousands dead or tortured or raped or imprisoned.

I wouldn't have bet much on any of that, as much as it might be nice to think such things possible. President Buish chose not to bet on any of these things, either. But we are all in this together, now. Even opponents of the war muster strength to hold to standing fast and finishing the job. There is something very great at stake. Still.

We all sink or swim in this “deep sea” of humanity. We all watch the clock.

While King David might have at low points despaired, he knew that only God had mercy large and limitless enough to make right that which went wrong:
1 I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever;
With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations.
(Psalm 89:1)
When the all too rare Men and Women of Authority harken us to our ancient creed and first principles, can we set aside our petty differences of partisan advantage, and see a shared purpose?

For there is an enemy abroad, a wolf, he circles the globe seeking the defenseless and those already defeated in their cravenness, or fear, or selfish disinterest as evil walks the world. We can pretend it isn’t there. We can wish a champion – someone else not us – against it. We can just try to get along with it, we can even seek out terms of surrender or accommodation. But someday, we will be caught abed. And wake, if we do, to the wolf not just at the door, but devouring our gentle ones.

James at Right Face! first reminded me of Henry V, in which Shakespeare gave serenade to those who would give all for King and country:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

-- St. Crispen's Day Speech, Shakespeare's HENRY V, C. 1599
Links: Outside the Beltway, Basil's Blog, bRight & Early, Mudville Gazette, Dawn Patrol at Mudville, Blogotional

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