Monday, May 25, 2009

BWIWAB & Memorial Day

Is BWIWAB the next new bicycle ride with an acronym serving for the name (ala RAMROD, STP, RSVP, RAGBRAI*)? Nope, and if you’re looking for the bicycling aspect of this post scroll down to the end, because Memorial Day is the immediate focus.

BWIWAB is my wife’s shorthand for when I get winding up to tell a story about my bricklaying days. I start with: “Back When I Was A Bricklayer…” Tired of hearing that prelude, she came up with the idea that I should just shorten it by first announcing “BWIWAB” as if it were one word, and then she could presumably figure out what zone she wants to go to while I prepare to tell my tale. I’ll try to shorten this one.

BWIWAB…I apprenticed with Larry Tinajera. I also laid brick with his dad, Alex, and when Larry and I complained about the cold while laying bricks in Colorado he’d tell us about when he was a soldier in Korea. “Now that was cold,” he’d say. "This ain’t nothing. And, we never ever got warm."

I was thinking about Alex when my wife, Pramila, and I went to see Gran Torino this weekend starring Clint Eastwood and several unknown-to-us Hmong actors. The Korean War was fiercely fought and brutal for all, and if you want to see a mostly very well made film (it is not a war movie), go see Gran Torino. A good one for this Memorial Day weekend.

My earliest memories of Memorial Day go back to the parades in Monroeville, PA. Our uncle was a “fireman” so we always looked for him on the firetruck and he’d throw us extra candy. The parade ended at the Cross Roads Cemetery just below the Old Stone Church (c. 1834) where I was baptized. The idea was that everyone would put flags on the graves of all the buried veterans. My dad was buried there and was indeed a veteran of WWII though he died long after the war. It was always a curious holiday cocktail: parade, firetrucks, death, candy, honor, 21 gun salute, hamburgers, day off from school, flags, beginning of summer, acutely missing those now gone, picnicking, graveyard.

And it’s not just soldiers who die. Where is the Memorial Day for all the civilian casualties and refugees (Hmong people as but one example)? We don't even collaterally memorialize them?

But don’t get me wrong. I honor those who have fought even as I deplore the wars. I am a real believer in collective action. I believe that we are better and have the capacity to make the world better when we act collectively. Whether I agree with the war or no, I therefore honor anyone who offers up themselves to the consequences of the collective decision. A very generous act.

I guess my problem with Memorial Day is that today it feels as if it is immersed in a societal attitude akin to what BWIAB is to me: a throwback. It’s as if it is a Holiday marking a time when things were supposedly different and that nobody really wants to hear about any more. But soldiers still kill and get killed.

If you’ve got Memorial Day off and you go cycling, maybe you could ponder while riding. Riding is always a good time to ponder, and if you’re so moved please comment here about your thoughts this Memorial Day. Do you remember somebody? Does pondering wartime death urge you to speak out? We’d love to hear how you memorialize.

Or, go see Gran Torino.

Keep it peaceful,


*Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day, Seattle to Portland, Ride from Seattle to Vancouver (BC) and Party, Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa