05/31/2010 11:54 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Memorial Day - What Have We Wrought?

I went to the cemetery yesterday. Sat by the garden and looked up at the brass plaque on the mausoleum wall that marks my parents' last resting place. My dad's been gone 10 years now, Mom just one. The emotion around their loss is still raw and usually surfaces easily.

But it wasn't until later in the evening, while watching a Memorial Day concert from the steps of the Capitol, that the tears came.

The bands played and people recited and the military vets saluted. War widows released doves in a ritual of healing. If only it were as easy to heal the nations torn asunder -ours and theirs. I sat and weeped. Eight years of futile war. The tragedy. The stupidity. The senselessness. What ill have we wrought from politics and deceit? How many lives destroyed and families devastated?

We never learn.

The burden of war feels heavy today. But we also see the unfolding devastation of a gulf and its ecosystem. We hear angry voices over Arizona's sojourn into bigotry and divisiveness. So many difficult things to consider this Memorial Day.

We take stock, and somehow it all seems to fall short. Even if we are secure in our own lives, the desperation of others who suffer makes us feel vulnerable. Wary. Worried.

Even so, I am not discouraged. I believe we can make the right choices, do the right things. Learn from our mistakes and choose a different path. One to wholeness and honesty, to stepping up and taking responsibility without consideration of litigation, to realizing we are the only ones - in the end - who can make a difference, make it right.

We must. We must move beyond self-interests and reach out to those we fear, those who look different from us, those who we vilify through our prejudices.

It is not enough to say someone else will fix this. We have to do it. You and I. And so I offer a challenge. Read a book to a child. Volunteer in a soup kitchen. Help the gulf clean up its tarred beaches and birds. Visit a wounded vet in the hospital or take a home-bound elder a meal.

Travel, if you can. Learn about other people, other cultures. Make an effort. Familiarity turns suspicion into appreciation.

And then turn your understanding into action. Help others to see what you see. Teach. Reach out. Explore new bonds and friendships. Be open to new ideas. Discuss. Debate. But don't vilify and don't rant.

We've all had enough ranting. Turn down the volume and sit with one person. Listen. Connect.

It's the only true path to reconciliation and wholeness, individually, as a nation and as a global community.