[This Commentary originally appeared in the November 9, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
Everyone suffers the experience of entering into a tough situation. Poets often use war as the hyperbole of a demanding duty. Many of us have the blessed fortune not to have lived through the experience of combat, but stay forever grateful to those brave enough and principled enough to have entered into the fray. The inner feelings of those veterans can never truly be captured. Often, though, we assume only the real dread brought by battle can infuse humbling thoughts or put things into ultimate perspective.
Perhaps that is true, but there remain in our lives events which force our confrontation with formidable foes. While the risk of sudden demise rarely exists, the emotional burden of a quickly paced observation-decision-action cycle endures. We find fields of honor (and daring) in many different places. For example, they may be in athletics, in class, in a meeting room or on a stage. No matter where, they bring us to a heightened sense of adrenaline.
Questions and Purpose
I will soon enter
the jaws of the monster.
I have not a fear
for ease bears no honor.
Death itself is merely a phase.
It comes when He wills it
no matter the case.
The only hope in the short span we fight
lies in our doing at least one thing right.
Nobody need then own that fault again.
Bravery does not really exist,
only stupidity and resolve,
which sprout from the same sticks.
Conviction drives on to an edge.
Foolishness compels us over the ledge.
When one takes a stand
his composure rocks solid.
The power of that strength attracts a mixed many.
For those frail and empty.
potency gives them tenet.
For those who oppose,
rigidity strips dexterity from an otherwise agile target.
It is not my first time.
I lace my boots a little slower and less passionate
than my fresher leaner compatriot,
but only because it is a job, not an adventure.
I have much experience with this kind of war.
Too familiar with the spectre,
I’ve seen enough slaughter,
enough joy of victory,
enough terrible misery.
I wonder in amazement:
Is it all worth it? What’s the real gain?
No matter who stands triumphant,
there’ll always be those who lay with mortal pain.
What’s the point?
Why waste time?
Why waste life?
In the end, we all go to dust.
Why does it matter who marches over us?
Because being – to be alive – is all we have.
there are causes worth fighting for,
beliefs worth dying for.
But, we must be graced with the common sense –
The wisdom –
To see them as they are.
With the onset of yet another battle,
this veteran’s weary arms and legs
wonder if this confrontation fulfills any exemplary purpose.
They know age and time now work against them.
They know they might never return.
They don’t know if the sacrifice yields a justifiable bonus.
They don’t know.
I don’t know.
I do know, however,
whatever might come of today’s melee,
tomorrow I will be a different person.
More experienced. More hardened.
More cynical. More wily.
I may bring home the prize –
allowed a short retirement
– until renewed by cries.
I might be dead on the other hand
retired forever in the land.
More likely I’ll know neither periphery,
but learn it from the faces all around me.
For it is the life vicarious
which enriches my experience.
So I am apt to live to struggle,
to trudge on and grasp the rope
ever looking for direction
but never without hope.
Where does an old soldier go?
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]