Happy Memorial Day?
Whenever I hear "Happy Memorial Day" or see it written on store signs, I cringe inside. What is "happy" about it? Have millions of soldiers died just so we can have barbecues and kick off the summer? Are we that glad for a day off from work and school?
I come from a military family, but even if I didn't I would take issue with the phrase. Memorial Day is dedicated to remembering our freedoms and being grateful for them. It is a time set aside for thinking about the true cost of what we have: soliders' lives, civilians' lives, years of war, of hardship we may never know in our lifetimes. We honor those who worked to build the country and the lifestyle we have. We fly the flag for them and for those who are still fighting, on all fronts, to preserve those freedoms and that lifestyle.
Cemetery visits are customary, and not just for veterans' graves. Memorial Day has become a day to honor all the lives of those who have gone before us, those who gave us our individual freedoms and who made our lives better. Veterans' graves get flags or signs. Visitors bring flowers to set on graves, put in vases, or outline the place where the body rests. In some cases, memorabilia, notes, or other meaningful items are left on headstones or by the crematorium wall. Teddy bears and other toys are left at children's plots. Some of these items are collected at the end of the day, and some are left there until the cemetary caretakers remove them or they become part of the gravesite.
In families who have lost a loved one recently, who still mourn their family members deeply, or who have military members, Memorial Day is a somber occasion. There is no laughter around the barbecue, unless it comes from the children, no bragging about things they are going to do in the summer. There are instead stories about the family they have just honored at the cemetery, the telling of experiences witnessed in war, the history of the family. Medals are brought out, souvenirs held and admired. The younger family members ask the older ones about the Depression, what it was like living through World War II, or ask their parents about the 1950's 60's and 70's. If the next generation is old enough, they may ask their parents about the Gulf War.
The day also honors peacekeeping and aid efforts and those who have worked for freedom around the world. Groups like the Peace Corps, World Vision, the Red Cross, Mercy Corps, UNICEF, USAID, and the USO.
Without the contributions of these people, many soldiers and civilians in all nations of the world would not be alive today. While they may not be able to mark the day in any way, they are thankful every day for the things we tend to take for granted. Things these organizations have given them: food, shelter, soap, clothing, human contact, news from other parts of the world, and hope.
So, on Memorial Day when you hang your American flag on the porch or wear that patriotic t-shirt, remember why the day is special. Don't just celebrate a day off from work, or the start of summer. Think about the freedoms you have: freedom to eat any kind of food, freedom to pray or to not pray, freedom to have a job even though you have the day off, freedom to have that day off. And, most of all, freedom to live in a country that allows you these freedoms.
Remember those who have fought and are still fighting to give you that. Remember those who have enriched your life.
Have a thankful Memorial Day.
Copyright Memorial Day 2009 by Karen Thompson.