Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Days

Did you fire up the grill? Maybe you dragged out the old VHS copy of The Guns of Navarone or watched the Longest Day, (the longest movie version which only took three more hours than the Normandy invasion), on TNT? Did you go to the Blessing of the Fleet or the parade downtown? All of these things are good ways to celebrate Memorial Day.

Now in truth more hamburgers have been lost on grills around the country this weekend than at any other time of the year including the Fourth of Julie. People just seem to think that grilling is the way to kick off summer even if the weather is well, Oregon weather. You can actually grill under and umbrella, I’m watching my neighbor do it as we speak and while it looks a little moist I’m sure the folks huddled around the tube will be truly appreciative when the platter comes in.

And yes, I have done my share of outdoor cooking including a whole procession of smoked turkeys when the weather was so cold you had to pull the smoker up close to the house and dash out every so often to check the fire and the water level, but the meat was good and the Long Sufferin was glad that it wasn’t her bending and bowing over the hot stove just to get the bird on that Norman Rockwell table.

So putting on the feed bag is a time honored way to mark the day, but is that the best way to remember those who serve and sacrifice so that we can burn helpless hamburger?

Artists have a lot of privileges. In spite of the fact that all the Congress and most of the media pundits think we are mad, over-sexed, wastrels, slapping paints and claiming to have a greater understanding of universe, we do lead charmed lives. We get to see what not one else can see and when the inspiration is right and the materials are at hand the result can make grown men weak in the knees and that’s when we do landscapes and ships at sea and not just nudes.

So is it fair that we ignore the guys who run to the sound of danger? Not just the men and women of the armed services although this is their holiday but the first responders who fight their own war against the capriciousness of Nature.

The folks who were on the I5 bridge this week sure as hell won’t forget the people who stopped and fished them out of the icy water or what about the people in Oklahoma, (I can feel a pang of sadness for Oakies, even after forty years of hating the Sooners and would not for a moment wish a tornado even on the vile and dastardly scum of Notre Dame.), they sure wanted to see the guys with the emergency equipment throwing caution to the wind and charging in before the storm had completely died.

Why include these guys? Well aside from the fact that they are the real heroes of ordinary life, a disproportionate number of them are returning veterans who learned their skills as a medic or EMT and brought them back so that they could continue serving even after their time in the combat zone was over.

You think all of the valiant are buried in Arlington or guarded at the Tomb of the Unknown? No they work and continue to serve right here in our own area and they do it without so much as a pat on the back or a whispered “well done.”

Where are the images of these guys and why aren’t we artists out there making sure that the rest of the population who doesn’t have the gift of imagery never forgets the people who selflessly serve and die and worse yet get maimed and injured beyond all understanding and then still have to make a life?

Don’t let this Memorial Day pass without committing your talents and skills to making just such an image. Sure there are artists among the returning vets and they do a wonderful job of voicing the suffering and the joys of service. Their art shows produce works of such skill that any other artist ought to think about what they are contributing when they’ve never had to overcome the horrors of war.

And no there is no reason why such an image has to be a Norman Rockwell peace, love and Frisbee in the park sort of Saturday Evening Post Cover, use the gifts you were given.

Maybe it’s the life-saving craft of our own Coast Guard. I look out my window and see the wind and the rain and think how wonderful it is that I’ll be eating diner soon, sitting in my big lounge chair and watching the Stanley Cup. The kids on the Coast Guard will likely be going out to rescue someone who ventured too far from safety and is in desperate trouble and they will do it in weather that I’m not sure I would bring in the trash can in.

What about the invisible Vets, the old, the injured, the homeless? They walk our streets and the best they get from the majority of the people is muttered work of pity or a handful of change and a quick rush away so that we don’t have to think about it too much.

Maybe those are the faces we ought to be making images of? Maybe they could serve to keep us aware that a lot of the people we feel such pity for got that way keeping our ass out of the fire.

Artists have a great responsibility to use their art to make the real issues of life visible for the whole of the People. We can't depend on the Congress, they are too busy trying to hang one another and we can’t depend on a media which makes getting bigger ratings more important than bringing us the news they were tasked to do. We have to look elsewhere. We have to look at ourselves and ask “Are you doing as much as the men and women we claim to honor?”

Memorial Day should be a year long, day in and day out celebration of the service of a handful of Americans. It ain’t just a day.

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