As I write this post on Memorial Day morning, at the end of a much-needed, restful, but eventful weekend, that utterly Roman notion r culce et decorum pro patria mori is on y mind and heart. This is a day to remember, to remember those who paid an ultimate price on the battlefield to preserve something they valued more than their own lives. Of course, that “something” is different for different fallen warriors: for some, it was family, for others, a more abstract thing like Country or Freedom or Our Way of Life. And of course, in the heat of battle, those “somethings” can be very far from a soldier’s mind.
Still we pause, unlike a Facebook friend who was complaining about the connection (as he believed) between ‘the Founding Fathers” and the fireworks that had kept him awake during the night. We pause, and in that pause I think not only of my own relatives who served, but of young and not-so-young people in every nation, every culture, every time who fought for glory, for honor, for family, for country. I think of the three young men at the heart of the Tres Columnae Project stories, and while I think I know their fates, I think of friends of theirs, companions in battle or government service, who would have lost their lives on some lonely field or shore seeking glory and honor for themselves and for their country. I think of my students who, for a whole constellation of reasons, have pursued military service, and of their families and friends.
Dulce et decorum? Sweet and … fitting? Appropriate? Bindingly right? Dulce isn’t a hard word to translate into English, but decorum is one of those slippery Roman concepts, easy to express in a simple way, bottomless in its complexity. Take a moment this day, if you can, to pause and to be grateful, to reflect on the call to battle that seems to attract so many young people. Take a moment and be grateful, and hold your family and friends close.
Then, if you’d like, you can go shopping for refrigerators, or have a cookout, or watch patriotic movies on TV. We’ll resume our “regularly scheduled programming” on Tuesday, as my students experience their final “Review Day” before final exams begin in earnest.