In the summer of 1999, I saw something that forever changed my perception of soldiers. I moved to South Korea to teach.
You see, South Korea is still technically at war, and even though the violence has left the citizens of South Korea largely untouched since the 1950s, the reminders of a state of war are still there. At the time, I lived just a few blocks from a national university, and the first time I heard the shots, I was certain that the North Koreans were coming.
No. I was mistaken. That was mandated practice for Korean men in the reserves. You see, military service is mandated of every Korean male. The duration of that service has changed over the years, and the duties it may include also vary. But it is, first and foremost, mandatory and protective in nature.
You see, you don't really forget (or at least I didn't) that the enemy is a two hour flight away. You always know that the North Koreans could eliminate the quarter of the South Korean population that is based in Seoul at a few minutes notice. And you choose to keep living. And you choose to be grateful to those that serve.
And so I thank all those, American or not, who, bearing arms, stand between the citizens of the world and those who would oppress them.
Thank you for those you leave in order to serve. Thank you for the years you sacrifice to take up arms. Thank you for the memories that you must bear because of your service.
We remember you.
But, without any disservice to all of you--my husband, brothers-in-law, father-in-law, and grandfather included--I want to express the hope that someday our swords will be beaten into plowshares and that nations will not learn war again.
And I want to thank those who make it their lives' work to breaking down the dividing walls of hostility and promoting peace.
Thank you to the social workers among us who are out there trying to change the negative aspects of our everyday life that breed hatred and contempt.
Thank you to all of the teachers who refuse to believe that their students will never amount to anything and encourage them to rise above their circumstances.
Thank you to all who leave your homes to teach English in other countries so that, indeed, eventually there may be no subaltern and everyone, at least in theory, will have a voice and a language with which to be understood.
Thank you to all who choose to donate your time, money, and energy to those who need it, be they people recovering from disaster or just the kid who has banged up her knee.
Thank you to all who decide to put equality above profit and who buy goods at fair prices, work for companies that do not gouge their prices, and who give to others as they are able.
Thank you to all of you who have been scorned, discriminated against, or unfairly insulted and have chosen to forgive and love rather than harbor bitterness.
And thank you even more to those who have endured these barbs and reach out to teach and change the situation.
Violence does not come because we live in a violent world but because we are creatures with violent hearts.
And I believe that when we are remembering our veterans, we are also called to remember our Lord, who bears on His body the marks of that violence, and yet who surrendered to it peacefully. There are battle scars that are physical, and they are not to be discounted. But our battle is not against flesh and blood--even in physical wars. No, our battle begins in the heart--against the powers of darkness that lurk there (not discounting those that lurk elsewhere, I still believe we begin in the heart).
For you see, no war ever began without some intention, and that comes from within, not without.
And so I look at this Memorial Day with a communion of spirit. Lord, I remember you. Examine my heart and remove from it the hate that nailed you to the cross because I know that it is always lurking there.
"Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me." - Vince Gill