I had two uncles who fought for the four freedoms, and I think about them on Memorial Day.
One of them, the younger, was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and came home on crutches. The other, the elder, was a medic among the Asian islands. Two wars, one against Germany and the other against Japan.
Now, their home base, my grandparents’ stucco realm, was a few houses uphill from my boyhood brick house. The duo, visiting their father in later years, might meet and greet each other on the corner sidewalk. They would bow to each other!
When I caught sight of that gesture, I wept, and wiped my eyes, and still do whenever I summon up that memory. The complexity of that salute!
These uncles had different mothers, from my widower grandpa’s two marriages. They grew up apart and faced different destinies. And so, what did that salute to each other mean? The brotherhood of a war, with a G.I. veteran’s understanding and unspoken respect.
This month, the holidays of Shavuot and Memorial Day come within a few days of each other.
My usual acknowledgement of Shavuot includes seeking out an old-fashioned cheesecake, plain and simple, plus visiting my closet to choose white shoes and a white vest, hopefully not too faded.
Some years, I make the gesture of driving to our local coastal Jerusalem, to touch base with the custom of creating a miniature Israel within the borders of our smallest colony, state, retreat, realm. But this year I would like to focus on a more pretentious purpose: To link the future of Israel and its Torah, the tree of our people, with the future of our nation, with its division and its destiny.
All religions have their common roots in Eden, and the grains and the laws of our collective species face the same future, hope or despair, like the names of our islands in the nearby bay.
I had a distinguished student in my recent elective class at the Art Club, and he read to us an ode by a Black poet in which God is a wandering minstrel who creates mankind because he is lonely!
And I told the tale I offered above, about my uncles, and even as I narrated my own personal memory, I was celebrating Shavuot and Memorial Day.
MIKE FINK (email@example.com) is a professor emeritus at the Rhode Island School of Design.