Not long ago, a young man returned briefly to his home church. He had left the town of his youth at eighteen, filled with martial dreams and the holy fire of patriotism. When the war began, he eagerly deployed to lands formerly unknown and returned with a bloated bank account and a withered conscience. An emotional and spiritual fallout debilitated him in the months following his celebrated return. Titles like “hero” fell painfully like a scourge upon his back, though such words were uttered by compatriots filled with nothing but good intentions and sincere gratitude.
His soul suffered nearly as much as his body and mind had, being diagnosed with PTSD and a myriad of physical ailments as a result of his time on the battlefield. But he refused to grow course and bitter toward the society that had sent him to an unworthy war. He loved the men he served with and the place to which he returned.
The young man’s principles often indicted those who took sides and cast stones, eliciting scorn and contempt, yet he persevered. His faith not only rebounded, but flourished. He had devoted his life to the Church, working harder than he thought possible to provide himself the best opportunities. His success was hard earned, but had sapped his strength. He was looking forward to resting his weary soul in familiar surroundings.
The day he found himself at his home church was just before Memorial Day. Weathered and emotionally worn, he was earnestly prepared to remember those he watched fall before the unholy altar of war. In years past, the sacrament of memory was an emotional minefield; corrosive and unforgiving memories became a flood threatening to wash away those more worthy of remembrance.
He approached the sanctuary with an uncharacteristic bounce in his step, the years of physical and ideological battle having taken their leave of him for this crisp late-spring morning. Things had changed at home, but nothing that wasn’t expected. He settled into a pew and thumbed through the bulletin. Something seemed off. Adorned on the front page was a reminder that the church offices would be closed Monday for the national holiday. There was even a silhouette of the flag being raised at Iwo Jima. The sermon was on one of the fruits of the spirit, a series of which the young man had come home in the middle. Nothing about memory, nothing about ultimate sacrifice. How could this be?
Growing frustratingly anxious and fidgety, he felt the symptomatic onset of mild PTSD. “Maybe during announcements,” he told himself.
He sat through the beautiful and melodious choral offertory and the splendid sermon. Nothing. Surely the church would not be caught reaping what it did not sow; taking a day off for memorial even while forgetting to memorialize. He noticed a section reserved for prayers toward the end of the service, perhaps he could at least hear some explicit mention of the thousands of those who had died for and against the collective cause.
Through the entire service, no tributes were paid for the sacrifice of national service. So he raised his trembling, clammy hand. A deacon approached with a microphone, handing it to the young man with a friendly nod.
His voice cracked and wavered as he began;
“I grew up in this church, I owe my life to the lessons I learned here. Today is my first day back in some time, after being at war and then at school. I came here to remember my past, so that I may reflectively respond to God’s call on my life to pursue ministry.”
The congregation began to applaud, recognizing a combat veteran in their midst, but the young man continued without pause, the anger of betrayal smoldering in his heart.
“We recently crossed a threshold of our own citizens’ lives lost that nobody seems to have noticed today, the day before their memorial. They must be yesterday’s news. More troubling is that we have such precise information about our own war dead, about the blood staining our enemies’ hands, but we refuse to acknowledge the blood upon our own; the names, hometowns, and survivors of those who have fallen by our own swords, slings, and arrows. Tomorrow I hope our church exercises it’s central task, of remembering, and not just those whose death serves our lust for battle, but those whose lives we’ve extinguished for its sake.”
Awkwardly, the deacon asked for the man’s name.
After thinking for a moment; “My name is Life, and my brother’s name is Death. If you love me, then remember my brother.”
It was believed afterward that the man was embittered or imbalanced, because was common knowledge that such people are damaged goods.