Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thirty Days of Songs, Day Four: A Song that Makes you Sad

There are many songs that make me cry tears of sentimentality. I don't think that's what this question wants us to ponder.

Harriet's post about her (now deceased) friend from college I think may be the best I've seen on this topic. I've lost family and friends, far too early and far too soon, but no one with whom I ever so strongly associated any piece of music.

Many moons ago, my mother took me on a trip to Washington, D.C. The Vietnam Memorial was still new, and was among the places we visited. My mother went straight to the part of the wall that she knew would have the names of her high school classmates.

I have seen my mother cry. I have seen my mother sob.

My mother put her hand on the panel with the names and wept, the first and only time I have ever seen her do this. She ran her fingers over the name of every man she knew in high school who didn't make it back home. She stood, very still, and stared at the names, and then made rubbings of the names for their parents, people she hadn't seen in twenty-five years, but she knew that the rubbings would bring comfort when she mailed them to parents, keeping alive the memories, knowing that their names were not lost, would make a difference, that this recognition had been accorded to them in death.

I already knew the song "Goodnight Saigon" by Billy Joel, but it's had a deeper significance ever since seeing my mother, on that sunny day, weeping.

I didn't plan this (I'm not good with schedules) but as this is Memorial Day, thank you to the men and women who left this country to fight for the protection of what is good, and a particular thanks to the families of the ones who didn't make it home.

At eighteen one might be physically fittest, but that doesn't mean that you have the maturity to handle all that war entails. I felt pretty clueless at eighteen (and nineteen, for that matter) and my biggest challenge was getting to class on time. Faced with jungle, with a war no one seems to have understood, with an enemy not always visible... these men (and some brave women!) "clung to each other/ like brother to brother" and they did their jobs, they did their duty, they tried to do the best, even when it wasn't clear what "best" might be.

I like the opening of this song more than the conclusion - the opening suggests a man who is very much trying to find his feet, to know what to do, how to do it. The end of the song suggestions resignation, knowing that one will die, and however hard life might be, I refuse to give up.

As a slightly older person than I was when standing with Mom at the Vietnam Memorial, what grabs me now is thinking about this song in the context of World War I. I think about the charge at Gallipolis, and the men who left behind their personal possessions and wedding rings, knowing that they were about to die.


Jeanne said...

for the last 15 years and 11 months, what hits me at war memorials is overwhelming fear and an understanding of the kind of loss that war requires

Harriet M. Welsch said...

Funny, I don't remember that Billy Joel song at all. But it's perfect for Memorial Day weekend. Thanks for posting it.

dave said...

I remember the song. I went through a pretty intense Billy Joel phase at one point. :) Storm Front was one of the first cassette tapes I ever owned. It's a nice song, and this was a nice post.