The word holiday really isn’t appropriate for it. The word implies fun, a much-appreciated time away from care and daily burdens of living.
Labor Day is a holiday that meets that definition best of all. And Christmas and New Year’s days.
On the Fourth of July we hold a big national party to express that we’re independent and free to party, or do most anything else.
And on Veterans Day we have the opportunity to shake the hand of a current or former member of our armed forces to thank them for serving us and, thank God, that they either came home alive or never had to be put in harm’s way.
Holiday isn’t a very good word for this Monday.
Memorial Day means to memorialize and remember those who went into harm’s way and didn’t return for their hands to be shaken.
Yes, I know that if I could speak to one of them, I might hear something to the effect that having fun on Monday would be all right, that it was for our freedom to choose and enjoy the lives we lead that they gave theirs.
But, I also might hear, just don’t forget us.
Yet the slow march of men and women heading to war is not an easy thing to keep in mind as the burgers sizzle and the volleyball bounces high as beers crack open in the foreground. Many of us in the East Valley aren’t even here this weekend, instead, spending time with faraway friends or family or at vacation destinations.
Among the din of frivolity and the national outbreak of relaxation it is nearly impossible to recall that our country remains at war as it has for many years.
That fact fades from our brains much too easily, in part because what America’s military is fighting is not the kind of war that led to the creation of Memorial Day. It’s not waged on the battlefield but often is house to house. And the combatants usually are not enlistees in a nation’s army. They look like civilians whose minds are wearing the uniform of some crazed belief that somehow God ordains the slaughter of innocents in the name of some heavenly purpose. That purpose, of course, is far from heavenly, but is of the quite earthly foundation that they get to run the global show.
Many Memorial Days I find myself attending some sort of ceremony. They’re organized differently, but they all have the same bittersweet message.
Freedom isn’t free, these rituals remind us; our liberty was bought and paid for by the sacrifices of too many young lives.
If we could speak to any of them, they would say that to them there was something in the colors of our flag, something in a baby’s carefree giggle or something in the uneasy and proud salute of an old veteran that led them to want to go into harm’s way in our behalf.
I see many veterans, young and old, at these events. They come to remember comrades, of promises they made to always remember them in hopes that the rest of us will, too.
As those banners flutter in the morning breeze and the music plays, I’m reminded that it is up to each of us to remember not so much how these honored dead died, but how they lived.
They lived principled lives of duty, integrity and honor. They lived as guardians of each other’s safety when the enemy was close. They lived not long, but with a record of service and charity many of us will not amass in many more years on Earth.
Life isn’t easy, even if you have never gone to war. What is easy about it is how we become mired in the minutiae of daily living, and holidays provide a structured opportunity to escape. Our veterans, and I believe even our dead troops, know that.
But we have the freedom to work our way out of our troubles that people of other lands do not and will not ever have. Their daily troubles are for most of them their lifelong ones. As they lack the ability to choose, they lack the opportunity to improve their circumstances.
Most of these people would give a year of their lives for a single day of ours. In that sense it somehow may not be right to refrain from firing up a grill, or launching a boat, or spreading a picnic blanket on Monday. Freedom is made to be exercised and cherished, made to be shown to the world as an ideal to which all have every right to aspire and to one day have.
Just do not forget them. Do not forget them. Do not forget.