vigil strange I kept on the field one night

This year, when I returned to Walt Whitman's poem about burying his son on the battlefield, I tried to understand the cause his boy, and hundreds of thousands like him, made the ultimate sacrifice for: our freedom as Americans. Then I imagined those who have battled in vain for freedoms which never really came their way: people who, along with their families, have never been fully unshackled from centuries-long oppressions, many of which they still face every day in this nation, Americans who are marginalized by the ones in power who make policy, pass laws and enforce them.

I considered, perhaps more deeply, Americans taking a knee during an anthem which ostensibly symbolizes the land of the free. Their voices are stifled and condemned by so-called patriots for asking to be treated fairly, respectfully, humanely. Why do we send our sons and daughters to war if we do not all share in the same freedoms at home? How can one American feel righteous in denying another his or her voice, particularly when unarmed, often innocent folks are getting gunned down by cops in the streets? Their parents and loved ones have to bury and grieve the loss of their children not unlike Walt Whitman did.

This Memorial Day, my hope is that more Americans will finally see said inequity and have the courage to stand up—or kneel—for their brethren, thus honoring those who have died fighting for our most basic and precious freedom.

Vigil strange I kept on the field one night;
When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day,
One look I but gave which your dear eyes return'd with a look I shall never forget,
One touch of your hand to mine O boy, reach'd up as you lay on the ground,
Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested battle,
Till late in the night reliev'd to the place at last again I made my way,
Found you in death so cold dear comrade, found your body son of responding kisses,
(never again on earth responding,)
Bared your face in the starlight, curious the scene, cool blew the moderate night-wind,
Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battle-field spreading,
Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet there in the fragrant silent night,
But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh, long, long I gazed,
Then on the earth partially reclining sat by your side leaning my chin in my hands,
Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you dearest comrade—not a tear,
not a word,
Vigil of silence, love and death, vigil for you my son and my soldier,
As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole,
Vigil final for you brave boy, (I could not save you, swift was your death,
I faithfully loved you and cared for you living, I think we shall surely meet again,)
Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the dawn appear'd,
My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop'd well his form,
Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head and carefully under feet,
And there and then and bathed by the rising sun, my son in his grave, in his rude-dug
grave I deposited,
Ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and battle-field dim,
Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,)
Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget, how as day brighten'd,
I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his blanket,
And buried him where he fell. 

—Walt Whitman

Confederate dead, Chancellorsville

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