A Mendocino Memorial Day


I was never alone.

In the fraction of a second just after my steel-toed boot came down through the Afghan dust and scraped the buried oily spring of the landmine, I turned first to see my unit. Their eyes in shock like a piano chord hanging in the air after the song has ended. To a man. To a woman. They rushed towards me. The cries of “No!!! . . . . blending into a silence that had colors brighter and bluer than the Afghan sky.

In that fraction of a second I could see across time. I could see she’d have a good life. Keeping me always at twenty-one. Holding that drop of sorrow inside her like a tiny drop of golden honey. That honey colored sorrow would prompt so many to say, as she marched across the decades of a long, long, life—they would say of her, “She really understands.’ And because she really understands, I was never alone.

In that fraction of a second I saw a stranger getting ready for a journey that would sweep him across the entire endless morning of the American horizon.

The stranger could be any age. Might be a woman or a man. I couldn’t tell. I only knew that the stranger had it in them to move. To keep moving. He was allowed to do that. I heard him sing.

“I bid farewell to the state of Old New York.

My home away from home.

In the State of New York I came of age.

When first I started roaming.”

And in the harmony of the song I knew that he could keep moving, he not only had a home, he had a home away from home. He not only had a family, he had a family he could choose. He could travel. Set out on the open road. Maybe not move a foot. But he’d still be moving. He could do that.

He could do that. And as I lay dying in the Afghan dust I could see it. I could hear the song of where he started.

‘And the trees grow high in New York State

And they shine like gold in the Autumn

Never had the blues from whence I came

But in New York State, I caught ‘em.”

I was never alone. I was on the journey too.

As if I had helped make it possible.

As if the stranger could do this because of me.

Across a new American land we travelled. The stranger and I.

No longer bound by the fight I’d left behind,

Now the point was on what we had been trying to defend. And that thought was new. It wasn’t a cliché. And empty phrase. A politician’s speech. It was like the song of the journey.

And it’s on to South Bend Indiana

Flat out on the western plain

Rise up over the Rockies

And down on into California

Out to where but the rocks remain

Off goes the stranger.

In that last split second as I lay dying, I could hear in the ocean waves off Mendocino, where the stranger and I had arrived together.

The stranger on a Greyhound. Me in the winds. I could hear a new America. One where we turn from the new and better ways of fighting, new and scarier “Others” to fight. And cast our golden promises on what it is we’re defending. Not a concept. Something real. The journey we’re protecting. Making it flourish. Making it sing. In infinite, individual ways.

That journey with the stranger. Our common journey from the moment of death. To each our own Mendocino.

Like a prayer we sing,

Let the sun set on the ocean

I will watch it from the shore

Let the sun rise over the redwoods

I’ll rise with it till I rise no more

Talk to me of Mendocino

Closing my eyes I hear the sea

Must I wait

Must I follow

Won’t you say ‘Come with me?’

I was never alone.

4 Responses to “A Mendocino Memorial Day”

  1. Anne Born Says:

    That is so lovely.

  2. Helen Gagel Says:

    That song was new to me. It’s lovely

  3. chicagoguy14 Says:

    I was inspired by the gathering for a young lady from Ohio and her three delightful daughters!

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