“I’m Still Alive”: Some Thoughts on Memorial Day

An Impromptu Essay by Matt Borondy
Excerpted from the May 26, 2006 Identity Theory Newsletter

Recently, a merry band of tiny black ants arrived in my bathroom and fell insanely in love with my fluoride-laced, Cool Mint-flavored mouthwash. The thought actually crossed my mind that the low levels of fluoride would somehow be able to kill off the ants. It was strange to think that I regularly, voluntarily swish a liquid around in my mouth that I believe, on a subconscious level, to be capable of poisoning a massive number of ants. This delusion was more a matter of convenience, though; if I could convince myself that the fluoride could kill the ants, then I wouldn't be responsible for having to get rid of them—no guilt or effort would be required.

During my nearly 28 years on this planet I have gone through a number of phases (though not nearly enough) in which, due to an extraordinary amount of effort to live a proper spiritual existence, I've felt connected, on a fairly deep level, to the forms of life around me. Within the span of these precious and fleeting times, I am remarkably disinclined to intentionally kill ants or roaches or any other beings. I've actually gone through the trouble of capturing cockroaches with makeshift containers and then releasing them into "the wild" outside my apartment so that they are no longer a nuisance to me but still remain alive. That probably sounds a bit ridiculous, but the fact is, during these times, the thought of killing the roaches never even occurs to me.

Many people who follow certain religions are proud to tell you about a commandment that says, "Thou shalt not kill." It's interesting that this commandment is given seemingly equal weight to taking a day off once a week and honoring your father and mother and all of that stuff, because it seems like those commandments aren't even in the same ballpark. It's also interesting that those with pious ideologies tend to interpret it to mean, "Thou shalt not kill people, but thou can kill anything else thou wants and it won't have any effect on thou's cow-slaughtering soul."

The reason I bring this up is that, given that there are often times when killing an insect seems inconceivable to me, it's weird to think that the idea of eliminating human beings even pops into some people's heads—that there's even a need for a commandment against it. And it's even stranger to think that war is such a commonly endorsed solution to problems—that it's socially acceptable for governments to kill people, be they criminals, tyrants, or collateral damage. How did this all get started? To quote a famous comedian, "Who was the ad genius who came up with this idea?"

Somewhere, somehow, someone got the absurd notion that it would be a good idea to kill someone else. Perhaps it was territorial; maybe it was over a girl. They might have seen animals killing each other and followed their example. Monkey see, monkey do. It's complete insanity, though, to think that in the year 2006 the human race has still not been able to overcome this wholly ridiculous idea that life can somehow be improved by causing a massive number of people to die. (This once-feverish idea is strangely and abruptly abandoned, of course, when the person with the murderous ideology is on the other end of the sword.)

Today, the words "I'm still alive" popped into my mind with an incredible force. It was like someone hit me over the head, and I had to pause for a while, like one would take time to absorb a particularly captivating sunset. What accompanied these words was the thought that I really have no idea why I am still alive and others are dead—and that there is no way of knowing how much longer I will be here or why. These are thoughts which, due to their painful obviousness, are easily assimilated into one's mind and given little weight on a typical, non-introspective sort of day, but today they carried a stronger power and brought about a series of insights and perceptions which can alter a person's view of the world, or at least reinforce one's notion of transience. It's nice to be reminded of one's temporary nature—and the temporary nature of all things—on a regular basis.

Perhaps the reason that people are so inclined to kill lesser beings and even human beings is that the mysteries and complications of life are too oppressive to them. It is much simpler—at least on the surface—to eliminate the existence of something than to actually deal with the difficulties it presents. The ideology of convenience, which is increasingly becoming the governing force in our world, forgives such action, makes room for it. But what kind of progress is this?

Saddam Hussein has long been captured, yet every day militants are still killing each other in Iraq, more than three years after the invasion, because our President sold the country and the world the idea that war with Iraq would be convenient. He convinced the masses that we could bomb the pieces out of that oft-invaded land, remove the aged dictator from power, and then be gone within a few months, leaving an entire nation of grateful Iraqis with smiles on their faces and flowers in their hands, hugging all the departing, unscarred soldiers in deep appreciation for our very convenient war. Yes, very convenient, if you have no concept of reality.

We are all bred, from our early youth, to become channel changers. If we get anxious or we get bored, all we have to do is change the channel and find some other reality. As such, it was more convenient for us to switch channels than to perhaps inquire about an exit strategy, to maybe find out when the killing would end. Of course, on September 11th, when it was our country that faced an act of war and our fate was in the balance, we didn't bother with the remote control. When the senseless killing of others is involved, though…wait, aren't they going to name a new American Idol tonight? What channel is it on?

This weekend is Memorial Day, when those of us blessed with the material luxury of living in the United States will honor the people who died while fighting for our luxuries, our security, our convenience. As the child of many generations of military men and women, I support this holiday and recognize its importance. But I can't help but feel that if people had actually listened to the commandment they were so proud to preach to others—if they had WORKED on making nonviolence a reality as opposed to becoming intoxicated by the IDEA of their own holiness—that we would have never had a need for such a holiday.

Then again, everyone needs a day of rest. God commands it, after all.

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