Hanuman, the monkey god, is one who reminds us to serve. When Hanuman was a kid, he was rather full of himself. That was not surprising, really, as he had wonderful and magical powers of strength and agility. When he got too audacious playing with his powers against the bigger gods, he was cursed to be able to remember his powers only when he was serving with true love and devotion. When he was serving Ram and Sita, then, the full force of his powers were available to him to help in their dilemma. (Yes, this is a rather creative summation).
Some of my strongest memories from childhood were observing my father when he was providing draft counseling for those conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. My father did not talk on the phone because it was tapped, but we heard a lot of conversations about whether to be a soldier, be a conscientious objector, find a basis for deferral, or otherwise protest or avoid the draft. Although I was raised to think that war did not serve humanity (though my parents engaged in debates about whether all wars were bad, discussing the difference between fighting against Hitler and fighting in Vietnam), I was also raised to believe strongly that we all have a duty to serve. I meet many in the military here in Washington, DC. What I find is that those who have chosen military life have a strong sense of service. Even if I do not believe in most of the basis of the service (just as I don’t hold much truck with whom Sita was expected to be and the basis of the battles in the Ramayana — more on that some other time perhaps), I respect that those who were conscripted and felt they had no alternative or those who chose to be in the military put their lives on the line to serve.
I try to think of Memorial Day as honoring those who have served and not, as I did when I was younger, dismiss it because it was more societal indoctrination to perpetuate the war machine. When Natalie and Joe Miller invited those at Willow Street to join them in service by helping to clean up part of Long Branch Creek, I signed up. I appreciated their way of making it easy both to honor peace (by helping the environment) and those who have served (by ourselves serving). We will be taking our yoga of the mat and into the world with a morning of seva— selfless service.