Monday, May 26, 2014

a soldier's story

My father was a veteran of WWII. This is what I know about him now:

1. He grew up as an inner city kid in Buffalo, NY.
2. He graduated from college with degrees in philosophy and educational psychology.
3.  After college he left home for Austria to study for the Catholic priesthood.
4. The Nazi invasion of Austria forced him to flee and return to the States.
5. He enlisted in the Army and attained the rank of captain in the Signal Corps...meaning that he didn't see combat. His division intercepted and decoded messages from the enemy. He didn't spend time in the trenches, but he was among the first American soldiers to enter the concentration camps during the liberation.
6. He never recovered from that experience.
Charles Richard Formaniak

How do I know?

Because he never said a word about the war. I don't recall a single story about it--not a thing about his decision to enlist, his training or deployment, where he went  or what he did, or how it came about that he was sent into the camps. He never bragged about his exploits or touted his patriotism. He never found the words to describe the fear he felt or horror he must have witnessed. It was as though he locked it all up somewhere and threw away the key.

Now that I'm older, I don't understand how he did that. He never let his emotional scars show. He didn't behave like a tormented soul. He wasn't an angry or violent man. He was a gentle, kind, hard-working man who had a special fondness for nature.


Now that I'm older, I wish my father had told me his story. It is disturbing to think that shame, or fear, or pride may have silenced him…the way it silences so many of our military men and women. So I have a favor to ask of all the men and women who serve in our armed forces, and to their families:

Please tell us your story.

Share your experience and wisdom with the people who love you. It doesn’t have to be the tale of a conquering hero, or a generous benefactor, or a successful conquest. It doesn’t have to be the story of courage or strength or victory.

It will help the rest of us bear our own weaknesses, sorrows, and defeats to know how you bear yours. It will help us acknowledge our own faults and failings if we understand yours. We are connected through our shared humanity. We are separated by silence and shame.

Remember that today is not just Celebrate-the-First-Backyard-Cookout-of-the-Season Day.

Today is Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

the saddest day of the year

The Saddest Day of the Year 

A friend of mine who is childless stopped me after Mass today. She confided in me about how sad she was because she couldn't stand up in church to receive the special Mother's Day blessing.

So, this post is for her and for YOU...if you are a mother, or hope to become a mother one day.

This is for you if you have been unable to become a mother.

This is for you is you have lost a child through illness or injury, in military service...or through suicide.

If you are a mother who has been entrusted with the care of a child with special needs, this is for you.

If you have suffered a miscarriage...or opted for an abortion, this is for you.

If you are estranged from your children...if you wish you had done better...if your maternal heart is broken, this is definitely for you.

If you are trying to do it alone, this is for you.

This is for all the meals you prepared, all the laundry you washed, all the miles you drove, all the sleep you lost.

For the comfort, encouragement, patience, kindness, and love you have shared.

For the frustration, worry, sorrow, anger, and sacrifice you have borne:

Ecce mater tua:
"Behold your mother."

...because Mother's Day may be the happiest day of the year for you...or the saddest.
"The mother is everything--
she is our consolation in sorrow,
our hope in misery,
 and our strength in weakness.
She is the source of love, mercy, sympathy, and forgiveness.
  He who loses his mother loses a pure soul
 who blesses and guards him constantly."
--Kahlil Gibran--