Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Post-Memorial Day Thoughts

A New Significance.

I didn't know Matthew Mendoza. But having grown up here, I can probably tell you a few things about him.

When his high school football team went up against Brackenridge (my alma mater), he probably cheered a little harder. Old rivalry there.

He probably owned at least one Spurs t-shirt. Probably spent most of his childhood saying "This is our year, man!"

He ate tacos for breakfast. Quite possibly for lunch and dinner too (but not the same tacos--you have soft tacos at breakfast and probably puffy tacos for lunch), and never thought he was doing anything "ethnic".

He had a baby with his high school girlfriend. He didn't marry her, but he stood by her enough to give the boy his name, which sometimes is more important. He didn't walk away and leave her on her own.

He almost certainly went to the carnival at Fiesta every year, and quite likely woke up real early (or camped out overnight, when he was older) to watch the Battle of Flowers parade, and probably caught at least one other parade every year. He may well have skipped school to go to the Cowboy Breakfast.

He went to the Alamo, Mission San Jose, Butterkrust bakery, the Institute of Texan Cultures, & SeaWorld on field trips as a child. Probably rode the little train by the zoo.

He probably loved accordions and polka music without the slightest hint of irony. Probably could sing Selena songs by heart and danced to "Techno Cumbia" at his prom. (He might even have been able to tell you exactly where he was and what he was doing when he heard Selena died.

He probably cruised Military Drive on Sunday nights when he was a teenager. Probably went to Mission Drive-In theater. Picnicked in Brackenridge or San Pedro park on Easter Sunday. Sat at his grandfather's grave in San Jose cemetary eating and drinking and talking about the old man on Dia de los Muertos.

He definitely grew up into a young man with a sense of purpose, of duty to his country.

He probably considered no future other than the Marines, because around here that's still a laudable career goal.

I don't know any of this for certain, of course. But if I bet money on each of these paragraphs I'd only lose a dollar or two. I grew up here too. There are certain things that unite those of us who grow up in this city (thus the joke: "You're so San Antonio if you think pro-choice means corn or flour tortillas"), things that make us puro San Antonio.

And what struck me yesterday as I was typing out the list of men who have died for us this year is that there is someone out there who can say much the same for each man or woman on that list that I can say for Sgt. Mendoza. You may not have known that person. You may not have known anyone on that list. But there's a good chance at least one person on there (or on the full list of thousands of people who have died) grew up where you did, or close to it, and you can say things that are more likely than not accurate, even without knowing them, because you've been there and experienced the same things. I know that Sgt. Mendoza was proud to be from Texas and from the south side of San Antonio because I am proud to be from Texas and the south side of San Antonio. Because pretty much everyone who grew up where we did is proud of being from Texas and the south side.

It is very, very hard for even the most solemn, well-meaning person to be fully mindful of the individual humanity of each and every person who has been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The numbers are hard to comprehend. This isn't a dig on anyone, it's just how our minds function (and I most certainly include myself in this, mind you).

So: break it down. Think of the humanity of one person, and grieve for that person even if you didn't know him, and you will grieve for them all, and begin to understand, a little bit, something that is almost beyond the comprehension of those of us who are civilians.

1 comment:

staghounds said...

I am crying like a child, that is beautiful. Thank you.

"From little towns in a far land we came,

To save our honour and a world aflame.

By little towns in a far land we sleep;

And trust that world we won for you to keep."