Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Gardens of Stone

In his masterpiece Downtown: My Manhattan Pete Hamill - speaking of the "New York version" of nostalgia - wrote, "It involves an almost fatalistic acceptance of the permanent presence of loss. Nothing will ever stay the same. Tuesday turns into Wednesday and something valuable is behind you forever. An “is” has become a “was.” Whatever you have lost, you will not get it back: not that much-loved brother, not that ball club, not that splendid bar, not that place where you once went dancing with the person you later married." Later in that very same paragraph, he drew the distinction between the legitimacy of nostalgia and the illegitimacy of sentimentality, "New York toughens its people against sentimentality by allowing the truer emotion of nostalgia. Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone. Nobody truly mourns a lie."

While I am not yet an old man (in spite of the notices to the contrary delivered on a regular basis by my knees and my lower back), I have been an adult for a long time. I was, relatively speaking, a child when my father dropped dead in his sleep in the master bedroom of the home that my parents constructed so that they would have a place to which they could retire (as if any person in his or her right mind elects Neshanic Station, New Jersey as their retirement destination). He and I - by the time he died - has what can fairly be described as a contentious relationship, to the extent that we had any at all. Weep not for him or for me about it. He did not and I have not - not once - in the almost thirty years since he died.

He was - as I am and as I suspect to some extent we all are - a flawed man. Yet for all of his flaws there are nevertheless things I remember from my childhood - lessons learned at his knee - for which I occasionally feel a pang of nostalgia. One such thing is my recollection of the lesson learned from him regarding people and politics. I never knew for whom my father cast a vote in any election. I had my suspicions but never received any confirmation of them. I recall distinctly one time asking him who he had voted for and he told me that it was none of my business. My father was raised in an age where a man's politics were his own and whether you agreed with him or not mattered not.

We live in an age now where we run from one person to another eager to share minutiae about ourselves - including our personal politics. Here in the Information Age methinks we have shared too much in that regard. Instead of being concerned on developing an informed electorate that feels more than a fleeting desire to vote and to actively participate in the process, we concern ourselves with whether those who want to participate are "us" or "them". Silly bastards we are, we long ago failed to appreciate the fact that we are all "us".....even those who do not agree with us on every - or perhaps any - issue.

I care not about the politics of another. While my head is physically enormous, it is not so because it is filled almost beyond its breaking point by ego. I have no delusions that anything I believe or support politically is any better or worse than someone else's preferences. Last November I voted for John McCain. I did not vote AGAINST Barack Obama. I voted for the candidate who I believed would do a better job if elected. He did not win. Yet in defeat he reminded us how the process works. He told his supporters that with the race over, President Obama was his President of the United States. May sound silly to some I suppose but McCain's position made sense to me, "I ran, I tried hard and I lost. Now we put politics aside and get on with the business of governing the country."

Over the course of the past several years, in two different battle zones, hundreds of thousands of men and women have served this nation. Whether the personal politics of a soldier leans more towards one pole on the issue of engagement or towards the other matters not at all. What matters is that these men and women who comprise our all-volunteer military do that which is asked of them. They do that which they have volunteered to do. And in so doing, they do that which they are ordered to do by their Commander-in-Chief and by the Government of the United States of America.

Far too many of them have died in combat. I say that not politically but empirically. As one who has never volunteered to serve nor been called upon to serve in our armed forces, I cling to the naive hope that all those come home who have gone to fight. I do so although I have walked the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery more than once in my life. While the death of each of them saddens me, the manner in which either side of the argument seems perpetually prepared to co-opt a family's tragedy for its own agenda pisses me off.

The men and women who have died in combat in Afghanistan and in Iraq are not 'casualties of war'. They are not statistics to be bandied about, discussed and fought over in the halls of Congress and in the taverns of Main Street. They are the sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands and wives of loved ones who gave them to the service of this nation only to never get them back.

On this early September morning, a family who I do not know shall gather for a funeral service for their soldier. A young man of only twenty-nine years - scarcely older than either of my two kids - Special Forces Staff Sergeant Andrew Lobosco was killed in action while fighting in Afghanistan. According to the Department of Defense's announcement of his death, "Staff Sgt. Andrew T. Lobosco, 29, of Somerville, N.J., died Aug. 22 in Yakhchal, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C." He was on his second combat tour in Afghanistan when he was killed. He is survived by his mother Bonnie, father Robert and sister Lisa.

One week from today, the Lobosco family will gather in Arlington National Cemetery for Staff Sergeant Lobosco's burial. He will committed to the hallowed ground of that magnificent place - to that garden of stone - where he shall remain. His sacrifice will be honored in a place where all can come to see him and to pay their respects. And for those who come to do so, their personal politics will matter little. And for Staff Sergeant Lobosco, they matter not at all.

According to one of Lobosco's old high school classmates, only two days before he died, he updated his Facebook page with a post that stated “what you are is what you have been, and what you will be is what you do now.” Indeed he was.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "So nigh is grandeur to our dust/So near is God to man/When Duty whispers low/Thou must/The youth replies, "I can."

Andrew Lobosco did.

-AK

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