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Was there nothing there worth fighting for?

Lamonte - May 20, 2008

This past weekend my wife and I attended (2) college graduation ceremonies. I apologize if I sound like the proud father but I guess that’s what I am. One of my sons graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York City and our oldest son received a PhD from Notre Dame.

It was quite hectic traveling to New York on Friday for the afternoon ceremony at Parsons and then catching a 6:00 a.m. flight to South Bend for the Graduate School ceremony held Saturday Morning. But it was definitely worth the trouble. Both of these sons (we have four of them) made us very proud and we feel blessed to have them. (And if the other two are reading this, or even if they’re not, I need to say that we are proud of them as well.)

At the commencement exercise for the entire university held Sunday afternoon at Note Dame, several distinguished guests were awarded honorary doctorate degrees and the commencement speaker was Cardinal Theodore McCarrick who is the Emeritus Arch Bishop of Washington DC. Since we are residents of the DC metro area we were very familiar with Cardinal McCarrick – his pleasant nature and his good heart – and he gave a wonderful address.

Another speaker was the actor Martin Sheen who was awarded Notre Dame’s highest honor called the Laetare Medal, given for his activism and for his contribution as an actor. Sheen is a somewhat controversial figure to some, because of his non-violent activism for peace and for his support of worker’s right. But without getting into taking sides on those issues, let me just say that his address was inspiring.

He told a short story that was particularly touching for me. He said it was an old Irish folk tale about a man who appeared at the gates of heaven asking to be admitted. St. Peter greeted him there and said, “Show me your scars” to which the man replied, “I have no scars.” Then Peter said, “What a shame. Was there nothing there worth fighting for?”

As we approach Memorial Day our thoughts will, of course, turn to those who have fought and died in battle so that we might live better lives. And I suppose for most of us, Memorial Day is not just to remember and honor fallen soldiers but to remember all those who came before us and paved the way for our lives today. I think of my own father who willingly joined the army in 1938 when he graduated from high school as a means of bettering himself and getting away from the limited opportunities in a small town during the final days of the Great Depression. Just four years later he found himself in the midst of a World War and he served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France. In 1946 he took off the uniform and became a civilian citizen but he found ways to continue serving his country and his community even then for the next four decades. He has served his family as a good and honest man with a devotion to the principle of fairness for all.

Then I think of the countless others, some of them members of my family but most of them nameless and faceless to me, who have done so much to make my life better. And I realize that I owe a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay. But the least I can do is attempt to repay that debt and the best way to do that is with the life I live and with my willingness to fight for those things I think are right. And so I ask each of you, “What are the things that you think are worth fighting for?”


  1. Decency and Morality. Freedom and Righteousness.

    My brother’s last day in Iraq is Friday. He’s been gone for a year and we’re very excited to have him back. Luckily for us he was in charge of a supply unit, so he wasn’t on the “front lines” –but it sure makes me appreciate the things people sacrifice for others. The whole country is in uproar over the war in Iraq and my brother simply says he has never seen a people more grateful for the American Soldiers than the Iraqi people. It blows his mind how little truth the American people are actually told by the media. This makes me appreciate my brother’s sacrifice of being away from his wife and son even more…

    Comment by cheryl — May 20, 2008 @ 8:25 am

  2. cheryl – I won’t say I agree with your position on the war but certainly the men and women who have served, and especially those who have died, deserve our praise and our honor. I have a friend who just returned from Iraq after a relatively short time there (6 months). He is an attorney for the Air Force and spent his entire tour within the Green Zone. But that was no gaurentee of his safety. And just like you, his family and all of us in the ward were grateful for his return about three weeks ago. We also have a friend, a single mother, whose son recently completed his second tour in Iraq. He had served a four year enlistment and planned to leave the service in July of 2006 when he got married. But the Army said he had to stay and serve one more year. He left in August of 2006 and his tour was extended to December of 2007. During that period of time his two best friends were literally blown up in front of him – in two separate attacks – and he was seriously wounded in one of those attacks. He has a decidedly different attitude about the war than your brother.

    And so I am sure that there will continue to be a division of opinion among Americans about the War in Iraq. But hopefully we won’t let that divide us in our devotion to those who willfully serve. I’m glad your brother will be coming home to all of you.

    Comment by Lamonte — May 20, 2008 @ 9:19 am

  3. Actually, Lamonte, Cheryl never expressed her position on the war. She simply passed along what her brother said.

    Comment by sam — May 20, 2008 @ 11:31 am

  4. sam – “It blows his mind how little truth the American people are actually told by the media.” Maybe I was making a big assumption but this seems like a position statement.

    Comment by Lamonte — May 20, 2008 @ 11:58 am

  5. Lamonte-
    Those were my brother’s words (Sam was right).

    I’m sorry for your friend. Seeing anybody die would definitely change perspective.

    Comment by cheryl — May 20, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

  6. It’s easy to overthink symbols and analogies, but even so I’ll point out that scars come not from dying but from surviving. There are a lot of things I would die for in the excitement or drama of the moment, and probably fewer that I would fight and live and fight again for, repeatedly. For example, I might be willing to lose my life pushing someone out of the path of a train. But if I got to know that person and decided that, for some reason, he was not worth the sacrifice, would I repeatedly give pieces of my life fighting to make his life better? (No, when I keep forgetting to put out that grocery bag for the Food Bank to pick up; yes, when I am a committed visiting teacher genuinely looking for ways to serve my sister.)

    Anyway, I liked this post and am thinking about what exactly I *do* fight for in the sense of giving myself repeatedly, and I’m looking back to identify people who have fought for me in innumerable ways. Thanks for the challenge.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 20, 2008 @ 6:35 pm

  7. What was your son’s area of study at Notre Dame?

    Comment by Chris H. — May 21, 2008 @ 8:32 am

  8. Chris H. – My son received his PhD in Political Theory. He has been teaching at a university for the past two years.

    Comment by Lamonte — May 21, 2008 @ 9:19 am

  9. I too am a political theorist (I think that I encountered your son on a theory related post over at T&S a few years back).

    To answer the question: Humanity is worth fighting for.

    Comment by Chris H. — May 21, 2008 @ 10:35 am

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