I’m finding it difficult to reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day. As the symbolic start of summer, it’s a festive occasion filled with sales, barbecues and pool parties. Conversely, it’s a time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives in war. This reflection inevitably leads to the somber recognition that many are continuing to make that sacrifice, even as I write.
These are not happy thoughts. I won’t neglect them, nor will I let them be the only thing that occupies my mind. I will sit with them, and see what they have to teach me, and then let them go.
Big Plans for Small Pieces
My plan for the day is to torch-fire my first metal clay pieces. Metal clay is made of very small particles of metal combined with an organic binder and water. It can be shaped and molded like regular clay, but when it’s fired, whether in a kiln or with a butane torch, the binder burns away leaving only nearly-pure metal behind. It’s a truly magical sort of alchemy.
I’m intimidated by the process. It’s too easy to over-fire and ruin a piece. What if things don’t turn out the way I hope they will? And how difficult is it going to be to hold on to a flaming torch for ten minutes? And so I find ways to procrastinate, occasionally glancing at what I hope will soon become solid silver pieces of jewelry. I have to keep reminding myself that this is an experiment, that nothing rests on my success. And that it will probably be lots of fun.
Running in the Wrong Direction
How foolish is it to let fear keep us from running toward what we desire? How much time is wasted on what-ifs? In Ukraine, daily life goes on in defiance of war. People pursue their hopes and dreams even as they track incoming air raids on their cell phones. None of us know how much time we have left, so it only makes sense to make the most of each day, regardless of what life may throw at us.
This afternoon I will transform clay into metal, with fire. Not literally, of course—it’s already metal. The fire burns away what doesn’t belong and sinters the metal, creating a solid piece. Likewise, our own personal trials by fire may not be pleasant, but they make us more solidly who and what we are. Transformation is not an easy process, but it is often beautiful.
In Flanders Fields
Each year on this day I reflect on the famous memorial poem, In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
If you find yourself feeling contemplative, fearful or even a little sad, don’t run from it. Enjoy the festivities of the day with all the gusto you can. Remember those we have lost, but also remember that life goes on. On this day of celebration and remembrance, we can honor the past and embrace the present, knowing that the only certainty in life is change. And that can be beautiful.