Monday, March 17, 2008

In a sea of white

When I was 17 in the late β€˜50s, Tubby Clayton, then an old Anglican priest, who had ministered to British soldiers in the grim trenches of the First World War, took me and a small contingent of young Americans on a pilgrimage to the military graves of northern France.

Each summer Tubby would return to the cemeteries with a different group of young Americans whom he had organized to volunteer in the settlement houses of poor London neighborhoods.

Tubby, who was in his 70s at the time of our visit to the endless, orderly rows of white tombstones, led us directly to the graves of the men he had known and ministered to.

As we stood next to each small headstone, he shared memories. Occasionally his voice cracked. He’d dab away a tear, then pause to gather himself. The pain of war β€” his shared pain β€” crowded around our little group as we stood in the thickened silence in the rolling sea of white.

I was reminded of that tableau as I stood at the PSU campus on Sunday amidst thousands of small flags marking the deaths that have resulted from the Bush/Cheney Oil War in Iraq.

The PSU exhibit ends on March 20, but, of course, the five-year-old war grinds on, its toll ever mounting. Somewhere, family and friends visit not miniature flags, but graves of the dead, of men, women and children swept away by folly and power, hatred and greed.

And like Tubby, a half century ago in France, the visitors are robbed of words by their tears and pain.

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