The Willamette Master Chorus I sing with puts on a veterans concert each year. This weekend was the concert's 10th anniversary. It is because I participate in this concert that I've had to honestly grapple with what military service means - to me, to our world - and to ponder what it might mean to service members.
At some point at each of these concerts, we ask members who have served in each of our military conflicts and during peacetime to stand so we can thank them for their service. There is something visceral seeing normal folks around the room emerge suddenly as veterans from World War II, or Korea, or Vietnam, or ongoing military conflicts. It pulls history into the present. It puts human faces on contemporary political arguments. Here they are. The people we have asked, for reasons good or ill, to kill and perhaps die for us.
I do not need to romanticize their motivations to join, or lionize their actions while serving, to see the profound impact being in the armed forces has had on their lives and their identities. They have served, regardless of whether their political masters have treated their offers to sacrifice with as much respect and forbearance as they deserve.
I have had to get used to the mix of respect, anger and sadness I feel when my thoughts turn to veterans. It's uncomfortable to hold conflicting thoughts and feelings in my head at once, but I don't think comfort is the goal. This is perhaps the messiest part of our messy world, and I do not think I need to relinquish my hatred of war, or my anger at bellicose world leaders, to understand that our veterans have sacrificed for me. For us. And in my own, uneasy way, to be thankful for that.