Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Names on a wall

I wrote the following piece in my notebook while seated on a bench near the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. Rather than edit it, I post it here the way it first came out as I watched visitors at the Wall. If you go to the Wall, I recommend you don't just walk past it with the flow of tourists. The true power of the Wall is found not just the monument itself but in the way visitors interact with it. So, find a bench, plop yourself down, and watch. You might just find yourself moved to tears... or to write.

As you approach the Vietnam War Memorial, you see a dark, shiny wall through the trees.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
From a distance it looks almost like a retaining wall, albeit a fancy one.

Only when you get closer do you see the names--over 58,000 of them--etched into the wall. Then the enormity of the loss hits you. Each name is a life lost, a young person with hopes and dreams, cut down.

Roses at the foot of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

As I look at the sea of tourists walking past the wall, my attention is drawn to the middle-aged men. They walk a bit slowly, and they linger in front of the wall. The people memorialized there could have been--maybe some were--their comrades, contemporaries. Then I think of those 58,000+ people again and consider again the enormity of their loss. They would be those middle-aged men (and women), strolling through a tourist mecca on a lazy summer afternoon, their kids grown and gone. They would probably be considering retirement, maybe looking forward to a time when they could spend every day strolling leisurely through a park on a lazy summer afternoon. Instead they are gone, reduced to names on a granite wall.

No comments: