happened yesterday that were of significance.
It was a brilliant, blue-sky March day in Vermont. Which is to say most of the ground is still covered with snow and the temperatures were in the 30s. A gorgeous welcome to sister spring.
I stopped at the rest stop on Interstate 89 that is a dedicated Vietnam War memorial. You walk in and you're immediately struck by how un-rest stop-y it is. Not only is it filled with beautiful, haunting black and white photographs from that time period, but it also has a greenhouse filled with tropical plants and and an Eco-machine that treats the site's wastewater. It completely catches you off-guard when you have been in highway-driving zone for any length of time. Go Vermont, as per.
Anyway, outside of the building is a little pergola kind of thing that has photos and information about Vermonters who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I noticed it on my way in and I stopped to read their stories on my way out. I was struck by how many people from this tiny state died in those places. The descriptions were hard to bear: ambush, grenade, helicopter downed, family in East Randolph or Barre or Arlington. They were all ages, from 20s to 60s. One died of a heart attack on base, another was killed by sniper fire.
It was cold outside but I couldn't stop reading and re-reading the stories of who they were and how they died, each of them there in their uniform. How soon we forget, I thought, How soon we move on.
I was crouched way down, looking at the photos at the bottom of the display when I saw in the glass the reflection of a gentleman coming toward me. He walked through the display and on his way toward the main building, and then he stopped. He turned around and he looked at me and he said Thank you. Thank you for your concern. Thank you for caring.
I was so caught off-guard, so unprepared for someone to thank me for reading the stories of dead soldiers that I didn't know what to say.
He was wearing a baseball cap, the gentleman: Something ... Veteran. That's why he stopped. He knew.
I don't understand war. People killing each other, fighting over natural resources, fighting over who's right and who's wrong. Human beings have been doing it as long as there have been human beings. It doesn't really matter if I understand it or hate it. Every single person who has ever served or fought or served and fought and died has a story that is worthy of my attention. Yours, too.
He is worn-out and sad that he's dying. He is sad that his body won't allow him to do the things he had filled his life with. And what a life it was. If I told you all that he had accomplished you would say Wow. You would think, Holy crap, that guy was something! He did stuff all over the world, he held important positions and got a bunch of degrees from schools you have heard of. He was brave and daring, he worked hard, he served selflessly.
His sorrow now fills up the room where he sits, still present, still thinking, still dreaming, but unable to do much of anything.
I asked him, What are you most proud of having done in this life? Because that's an important thing, you know, to remember, when times are hard, the things you did do, the ways you altered the molecules of this world by being you.
He didn't hesitate for second. Marrying her, he said, pointing to her chair across the room.
Love, it seems, trumps all, in the epic storyline of a life. I see it all the time, every day. Lawyers, farmers, writers, professors, enough accomplishments to fill a stadium. And still, when the doors to a life are closing and the accolades, plaques, medals, vacations, cars, the clapping, the degrees, the titles are all fading from view, what remains is love.
I tell you this with all the authority of a scientist. My laboratory, the living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms of the dying and the grieving; my mice, all of those who are done being important to this world and have come to understand that being important to the people they love is all that matters.