It seems I’ll be writing quite a bit about death at the start of this week, which is a curious way to welcome the month of June. Like most people, perhaps, I don’t care to dwell too long on the empty silence of eternity that yawns beyond the swan song of a heartbeat. But alas, Death awaits us all, and with all things, what matters is what we learn and do while we can.
Frank Lautenberg, a veteran of the U.S. Army Signal Corps and senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey, was the last veteran of the wars that rent worlds serving in the Upper Chamber. His passing has now ended forever the era when those who defended freedom in the Great Wars of the early 20th Century represented entire states of free men and women in Congress. As the world tumbles on, which it always will, we should take a moment to remember that we stand on the shoulders of men who built and defended across the world a civilization that we now take for granted.
If we are lucky, neither us nor our children will ever be called to dutifully face the martial belligerence of the extinction of liberty. While all of the men who did will soon be gone, we should always remember and honor the fact that such men lived. Thank God that such men lived, fought, and went on to serve their families and country in civilian life. The ultimate gift they will leave behind is a nation increasingly distant from the cost of constitutional virtues that are neither free nor universal, even if they ought to be.
It is easy to forget in good times the horrors that can surface in terrible times, but there is the enduring paradox of building the peaceful prosperity of a nation on the solemn sacrifices of a generation of mortals who knew they lived far too close to an abyss. Can we live peacefully in a free world where ever fewer of us know firsthand the costs of peace and freedom?
I did not agree with Sen. Lautenberg, may he rest in peace, on many or most political issues of the day, but I certainly share his love of country and zealous commitment to the American project. In short, I’m glad that such a man lived and served for people like me. I’m likewise glad that men and women today still serve and bring the raw edges of wisdom in a broken world to those of us who will never see suffering as they are called to.
Someday, as assuredly as Ozymandias reigns over sand and dust, my generation will have perished and with us the firsthand knowledge of life in the Second Millennium. Whether the values and wisdom we hold and accumulate will translate well to those who inherit our stations is a question our lives will serve to answer.