Memorial Day on Monday, May 30, is the official federal holiday on which our nation pauses to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country. It began as Decoration Day after the Civil War, where people all across the country would go and place flowers at the graves of those who had died in war. While many claim to have started the practice, the fact is that the roots of the memorial remembrances reach into the North and the South. Grief is not shaped or controlled just by politics or boundaries or color of skin or church preferences. It brings its deep disturbances to men and women, to rich and poor, to those who may be illiterate, and to those who may be intellectually elite. It brings its deep disturbances to all of us.
For some, Memorial Day will simply be a line of demarcation that signifies the end of the school year and the beginning of summer and warm weather and trips to the beach or mountains or summer activities or mission trips. It is much more than that. It is worth our time to stop and carve out a few moments to make Memorial Day memorable, for hundreds of thousands have given everything so that we can exercise our freedoms. Now in reality, hundreds of thousands have died in the wars that we have fought through the centuries, but the pain and the sacrifice were not just restricted to them. For each one of the men and women who gave their lives, a family was left to live the rest of their lives dealing with the loss of a young person who was so precious to them.
Still others fought and were injured and maybe left on some lonely battlefield, with some aspects of their lives that could never be regained — the loss of sight or hearing or legs that used to carry them, or a mind that was damaged to the point that they can barely function. Much has been given by others for you and me, for which we should give thanks and remember them on Memorial Day. How can you best go about making this day or at least part of this day a time of remembrance? Let me just give you some suggestions and you can fill in the blanks with the wonderful memories of someone.
First of all, think about statues. When I think about the statues that I have seen throughout the years of people who have gone to war or people who gave family members to go to war, I have become increasingly interested and moved by them. They are not monuments before which to bow down, but they certainly stir our memories of what they represent. To see the monument and memorial of the flag being raised at Iwo Jima is an iconic thing that you cannot ever forget. Visiting the black granite wall with over 58,000 names of men and women who gave their lives in Vietnam leaves an impression that never seems to shrink away.
As a youngster and even in my young adulthood, I would pass by statues depicting women obviously concerned or crying as their children went off to war. In my early years I couldn’t comprehend what that was about, but after you live a while — and if you have sons and daughters and then maybe grandsons and granddaughters — you begin to realize what it must feel like to have that separation take place in your life as they go away and may never come back. All across our land there are the granite and bronze statues that remain in their fixed places, waiting on someone to pass by. They very quietly reach out and remind us and stir our hearts and rekindle our memories.
A second thing that can help make this a memorable Memorial Day is speeches. You may not want to hear somebody make a speech on Memorial Day, but you might want to read some or maybe watch an observance on television or pull something up on your computer. It’s amazing how many speeches are presented and how many of them are so meaningful, moving, articulate, and engaging. Frankly, the speech may not come from some gifted orator or prominent person, but if you pause for a moment and listen, you may hear someone speaking — a dad or a brother, a mom, or a friend — as they tell about the difficulties they went through to not only serve the country but to serve with people who became a part of their lives but are no longer with us. Their brief, moving comments may never get on television or written down to be put in newspapers, but if you’ll listen carefully your life may never be the same.
A third thing that can help make this special day memorable is to think about the servants who went away to serve you and me. Maybe the best way to engage with them is in silence. If you see someone you know is a veteran or is actively serving now, just thoughtfully use the opportunity to say thank you. Maybe thoughts would be dredged up from the depths of your mind about a friend you saw and talked to before they left for Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq or World War II. You may not have known anybody who was lost in war, but if you will be silent for a moment, you will see some of their family members and you may even remember some of them.
You may not be happy about some of the things going on in our country today. You may be disturbed by some of the leaders with whom you don’t agree. You may be so mad that you’d like to call down fire from heaven to change everything, but don’t let all of those things keep you from having a heart of gratitude for those who gave so much that we might have so much as we are blessed living in the greatest country in the world. God bless your Memorial Day.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.