Thursday, 17 June 2010

Rockville Memorial Library

overcast, some sun, temps 20

Now is the day. Lee Ann, who sometimes posts comments, and is always kind and supportive, has sent the blog - despite, as you'll read, a few bumps. But it has all been sorted out.

I do want to say that because it's late, and because this is such a lovely, moving, important post, I'll be keeping it up until Saturday...but I also wanted to thank all of you for your wonderful comments about the new blog design! Thank you.

Now, back to Lee Ann's post...and thanks Linda for putting up the photos. When I read this I have to say, I wept. In gratitude, for the lost and in gratitude for people like Lee Ann and many of you, who get back up, and do good things.

Now here is what Lee Ann sent -

Louise kindly invited me to blog on Memorial Day in celebration of the renaming of our local library: on Friday, May 28th, the Rockville Library became the Rockville Memorial Library, in honor of our fallen service members including my son Thomas who was killed in action in Iraq on November 11, 2004. We have been working for this change for three years, stubbornly refusing to go away, something I am sure the local politicians really wished that we would do. This blog post had to be delayed when my oldest daughter was hospitalized that weekend for a complication after the birth of her baby on May 20th but all is well now and I would like to share this story.

Memorial Day began in the United States after the Civil War. There does not seem to be a particular reason that it’s at the end of May, though perhaps it’s because the approach of summer means that the flags and flowers placed on graves then will last for a while (it was originally known as Decoration Day). Until we lost Thomas, my family had no particular reason to observe Memorial Day, other than the respect and gratitude we owe to all those who have served and died. Now we take this day and its spirit of honoring the fallen very personally. Getting our community to honor the fallen with us has been our goal since we were introduced to the idea of renaming the library.

I first contacted Louise after I quoted an extensive passage from The Cruelest Month in my blog. This is what I said in my blog:

I've been reading a mystery (I'm almost always reading a mystery!): this one by a Canadian named Louise Penny. The book is called The Cruelest Month, an allusion to T.S. Eliot's assessment of April. Lots of poetry, a strong story of good and evil and how we tend to encompass both. But what struck me about this book was a short passage when Armand Gamache, the protagonist, enters the village church which oddly is named St. Thomas:

He'd been in St Thomas's often enough and on this fine morning knew light from an old stained glass window would be spilling out onto the gleaming pews and wooden floor. The image wasn't of Christ or the lives and glorious deaths of saints, but of three young men in the Great War. Two were in profile, marching forward. But one was looking straight at the congregation. Not accusing, not in sorrow or fear. But with great love as though to say this was his gift to them. Use it well.
Beneath were inscribed the names of those lost in the wars and one more line.
They Were Our Children.

Here is a fictional story about an imaginary village that somehow manages to capture a truth that eludes my local elected officials. Remembering our dead is important. Remembering why they died is paramount. Remembering that they loved us makes sense of it all.

Reading this passage had reminded me and even reassured me that what we were doing was good and right. I’ve travelled a little in Europe and the U.K. and in every town I visit there is a monument to the fallen of the Great War and World War II, sometimes in the town square and sometimes, as in this story, in a stained glass window or carved into the wall of a church. I never have to look for these monuments: they are always right out there, front and center, in places you will pass as a casual visitor. It became my dream, not quite obsession, that we do the same for our community—very little of our county is incorporated into towns, so doing this in the county seat seemed right and appropriate. The library is on a beautiful open square where people pass on their way to restaurants or shops or just to sit in an open space to watch the world go by. Now when they sit on the square, drinking their lemonade or eating their burgers or reading a book, they can look up and see the words “Rockville Memorial Library” and maybe they will ponder what those words mean, at least for a second.

The rededication ceremony was held on Friday, the 28th of May. The four families who had worked for the renaming were invited, as well as the man who originated the idea, a retired judge named Irwin Cohen. The mother of our most recent lost soldier (March 4th) came. The politicians came and took some credit. The library director welcomed us and introduced speakers, while also noting that this was event close to her heart as well: her brother lost his life serving in Viet Nam. A Viet Nam vet spoke, and the brother of a POW who died by his own hand after he returned home. My husband spoke about Thomas’s love of reading and writing and his dream, not realized, of becoming a writer when he came home. The Secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs presented a proclamation from the governor. And then came the unveiling.

Now, up to this point, this was a very solemn ceremony. For the unveiling, the families went to one side of the front canopy and the elected officials went to the other side where cords were hanging, waiting to pull down the cover over the new sign. What no one had allowed for was the effect of baking heat (90 degrees) on duct tape. Ultimately, building services staff equipped with ladders had to be called in to peel the tape off and release the sign. Thomas would have loved it: he was never very tolerant of people who took themselves too seriously and I’m pretty sure he would have been deeply embarrassed by the entire proceeding. We had to laugh, and that was also fitting.

We ended with Taps and the retiring of the colors. The reception afterwards gave us all a chance to visit and to say goodbye for now—we will have other causes to bring us together I am sure. My personal mission for now is on behalf of returning veterans: our county, in spite of everything, has shown a deep concern for those veterans and I am now part of a collaborative group of organizations working to help those men and women reintegrate into life at home. My role is small but I hope that I can do some good there. I hope Thomas would understand and be proud.


Lee Ann said...

Thank you Louise for giving me this opportunity to share our story. And thank you again for the beautiful and insightful writing that started this friendship.

Lee Ann

bgpringle said...

Lee Ann,

What a wonderful tribute to Thomas and all who have died for their country. Those returning home will certainly need those services when they return home.
Well done.


Reen said...

Thank you.

Bev Stephans said...

What a wonderful post Lee Ann. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Shelagh, from Michigan said...

Lee Ann, What a beautiful tribute - the renaming of the Library, and especially your words. And I think it was wonderful of you to include the story of the duct tape, and your poignant note that Thomas would appreciate the humor in it. You are a special lady, and thank you for sharing this with us, and thank you, Thomas, for your ultimate sacrifice.

lil Gluckstern said...

Beautiful words, and wonderful memorial, thank you, Lee Ann, and how Louise's words say the sorrow and respect so well.

Marilyn said...

Thank you. And thank you to all of those who have served to make our country and others free.

Rachel said...

thank you. I will share this with my son ...

Diane said...

Thank you Lee Ann. Your post was heart rending and heart warming. It's wonderful how everything came together - Louise's writing, you and your friends determination to have the library renamed. What brave persistence in the face of resistance for those who fought so bravely for others.

Alix said...

Thank you, Lee Ann for sharing your son with us.

I am sure his presence in your life lent joy and ease to your days. I hope, in time, his memory will continue to do so.

Debsanger said...

Thank you, Lee Ann, and also Louise for sharing your space. Particularly apt this morning; we will bury my father-in-law today. He was a soldier too - but spared to live on in a life of service in other ways - his bronze star part of a makeshift shrine growing on the mantelpiece.

Louise Penny Author said...

Hi all,

What a lovely and supportive and kind community you are. I'm so happy to be part of it.

and I add my voice to the chorus, Lee Ann. Thank you.