Woog's World: On Memorial Day, reflect on our complex freedoms they sacrificed for
Updated 9:14 am, Monday, May 25, 2015
It's been quite a month in Westport.
First, fliers with the hashtag #WhiteLivesMatter were tossed onto lawns and driveways around town. No one claimed responsibility, but similar-looking messages in Milford included a link to a racist organzation.
Barely a week later, two men burst into a private lunch at Temple Israel. Shouting pro-Palestinian slogans, they terrified 100 women there to hear a talk by Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces. Clergy and staff members subdued the intruders, and Westport police then took over with dispatch. But in the first uncertain moments, two middle schools, one elementary school and two preschools were locked down.
Quite a way to lead up to Memorial Day.
On Monday, Westport honors the men and women who, for nearly 250 years, have defended our country. Some made the ultimate sacrifice: They gave their lives. It may be hard to fathom in the wake of this month's two incidents, but free speech is alive and well in America.
It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race in housing, hiring or many other areas of life. It is cowardly to throw anonymous fliers on people's property. (It's also littering.) But Americans still have the right to say that "white lives matter." Just as they have the right to say "black lives matter," "all lives matter" or (hypothetically) "no lives matter." And we are all free to have a robust, honest discussion about it, as we did this past Sunday at the Westport Library.
It is illegal to burst into a private function, on private property, and sow terror. In today's climate -- and in Westport, just a few miles from Newtown and a few more from the destroyed World Trade Center -- it is the height of recklessness and stupidity to believe that no one would worry that after the loud words, there would be gunfire or bombs. Yet Americans still have the right to argue for or against Israel, for or against Palestine, or take any position in between. We can do this anywhere in public, and -- so long as we do not threaten anyone -- we can be as insistent as we want.
On Monday, Westporters will gather for the Memorial Day parade. It's one of our most cherished traditions, but perhaps because we enjoy it so much every year, we've lost sight of its true meaning. We applaud the veterans, police and fire departments and EMTs. We videotape our little soccer players, gymnasts, and violinists. We marvel at the Y's Men's war-themed float. Then we barbecue, drink beer and welcome summer.
This year, let's do something different. On Monday, let's think about each group that passes by. Let's try to understand who they are, what they represent and the contributions they make to our community, our country and our world.
There's grand marshal Bruce Allen, of course. He's a World War II combat infantry veteran, winner of a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He'll be flanked by other veterans -- a fading number from that war, and more from the others that followed. If they had not served, could we line a parade route now?
RTM members march. They donate countless hours to the town. They pass our budget, take tough votes on issues like open space and senior housing, and hear constituent complaints about potholes and noise. What kind of town would we be without their level of involvement and service?
There is music galore. Fife-and-drum corps remind us of days when it was expected that every young man would fight for his country. If you were too young to carry a musket, you picked up an instrument. In 2015, the music is brassy and bold. It's played by teens and tweens, in high school and middle school. Let's hope that in addition to learning the notes, they understand the human stories behind the marches and patriotic tunes they play.
As we shout hellos to our neighbors and friends in every civic group imaginable -- Al's Angels, Westport Woman's Club, Community Theater, Rotary, First Night and more -- we should recognize their power and passion. They help the helpless. They nourish our minds. They make us laugh and cry. They sustain our town, and make the world a better place. America is still a special nation, and -- in part because of what they do -- Westport holds a privileged place in it.
Of course, the bajillions of kids marching with sports teams, music and church groups, on floats and in trucks, represent our future. We hope they grow up in a world of peace, but we must give them the tools to navigate what we realize will be a difficult, complex world. We should remember once more that their future could not be possible without so many sacrifices, from so many who came before.
That's a lot to think about. Thankfully, we live in a land in which we can.