A Memorial Day Writing Assignment

It’s Memorial Day here in the US, and last night, I looked up the origins of the holiday. Apparently Decoration Day was the day established after the civil war to remember those who had lost their lives in battle – literally fighting for freedom. It was the day to decorate graves and remember the ultimate sacrifice that so many paid for others to be free. I have no idea how that actually worked back then, as the Confederate soldiers were actually fighting *against* freedom for their slaves, but somehow the holiday was established and eventually morphed into Memorial Day. It’s kind of ironic that the government decided to move the date so it would always be a convenient three-day weekend, and there is a movement afoot to get that changed, so the holiday has a more proper “focus” (rather than just the long weekend that marks the official start of summer for so many). I’m sure it will never happen, because people do like their long weekends, but that would be a better way to put the focus on the holiday itself, rather than the BBQ’s that are so prevalent on this particular weekend…

In any case, I got to thinking about what it would be like to be “in the trenches” so to speak, and know that your last breath could be any moment now without some sort of miracle. Would you think about why you’re there, why you’re fighting? Would your life flash before your eyes? Would you pull out that picture in your pocket and say a quick goodbye? Would you even have the chance to think or process that you’re going to die?

Yes, I know, this is all very maudlin, but considering the people who have died (and continue to die) in service, it seems only right to explore those questions and try to empathize with what they might have been feeling, at least to some degree. We can never actually be in another person’s head, but we can imagine what it might be like if we spend some time in that head space. I think we owe them a little time thinking about it, in any case. They did give up their lives, after all.

In light of that, I’ve given myself a special writing assignment that will be in effect on all Memorial Days from here on out, starting today. I need to write a scene wherein an officer is near death while serving in some capacity. It doesn’t have to be a full story, but it does need to explore the head space that my fictional officer might be in given whatever circumstances he or she happens to end up in that will ultimately result in his/her death. This is how I explore things – how I learn what others might be experiencing or feeling – I create a character, and then let them tell me their story.

I may or may not share these with anyone – after all, it’s really more of an exercise in empathy for me. No two characters ever end up alike (I don’t script my characters…I let them tell me who they are, so it all comes from my subconscious, not my conscious mind), so it should be someone different in completely different circumstances every year.

This will be a challenge for me, as my conscious mind sort of rebels against military service, even though I understand the necessity and strategy behind the “machine”. But this is one of the big reasons why I write – because it helps me understand and empathize with viewpoints that are sometimes dramatically different than my own. A way to expand my perspective, so to speak.

And yes, we are having ribs for dinner. It is a holiday, after all…