Moment of Silence

May 31, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: For a long time, there was a life to be lived outside of Iraq. It occupied a certain corner of the mind, yes, but there were other things: An epidemic of obesity, the end of “Friends,” Google going public, a fiercely expensive presidential contest. They all jostled around the media for their share of public attention.

Yes, there was always news of Iraq, more unforeseen violence, more deaths, more hostages held. It scrolled across the consciousness and conscience, but it didn’t subsume everything, not for those of us who didn’t– and don’t– have a loved one over there. But now, that’s gone.

I realize as I go through my day, market, bookstore, dinner, that I am tethered to that place, certainly today. It’s what the writer John Irving, in his book, “The World According to Garp,” quippingly called the dreaded undertoad. I am not talking about an intellectual grappling with the rights and wrongs of the policy, but a humming, gut-level sense of dread, of what the day or night will bring. I flip on the news whenever I pass the TV– when I get up to get a glass of water in the night or go to get a snack in the middle of the day– bracing for an update, a body count, and I realize that I haven’t felt that way for so long, not since I was young and Vietnam had lodged in the country’s torn- apart heart.

Body count. That was the phrase the war made famous. The spool of images from that war is stored in our collective memory banks: The helicopters, the body bags, that naked girl running down that street, the silent scream you can hear through the photo. They bring, all these years later, a wealth of feelings, even for the most doctrinaire among us, avid peacenik or hawk, a reminder that none of this is simple. You see the monuments, the shiny new World War II monument: So unabashed, so adamant, so proud. And then it’s neighbor: The long, sleek gravestone of a memorial to the Vietnam dead. Hold them both in your mind, your heart, your civic soul. In both hands, one and the other.

This is my country. These are its war dead. I honor them. Now there are new ones, 800 plus and counting. There will be more and down the road, perhaps, a monument for them. It’s too soon to know — too soon to know how this war will end. It’s all still so muddy and we are all, mostly all, afflicted again with a tangle of feelings. Gratitude. Grief. Rage. Hope. Always so young they are, those who serve in war. Many commit acts of courage and comradeship. Some commit acts of cruelty and callousness. We have seen both in Iraq. And women, we have surely taken our place at the center of things. Look at the three serving sisters, two of whom had to bury their fallen sibling. (Playing Taps)

A Memorial Day at a time of war is a unique and freighted thing, a time of heightened apprehension and heightened sorrow, and heightened reckoning. A time to stop throwing words at things and have a moment of silence. ( Playing Taps )

I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.