Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial (Not Just One) Day

Certain holidays are naturally celebrated over a span of time rather than on one day. I’m already hearing people set of fireworks in my neighborhood, which hints to me they are preparing for the Fourth of July, Halloween spawns costume parties throughout the month of October, and the Christmas season seems to begin immediately after Halloween these days.

Regardless of the reason, in all of the above instances the celebration of a single day stretches out over a weekend, or a week or a month or more. Sometimes it is due to tradition. Other times it is because we as humans cannot stand the anticipation. But today we observe a holiday whose celebration should last longer out of obligation.

Memorial Day has become synonymous with many things over the years. It is an extended weekend away from work. It is an excuse to get together and grill in the backyard. It’s a family vacation. It’s the unofficial beginning of summer.

Yet with all the things Memorial Day has come to signify, most of us have lost what it was meant to do. Memorial Day is supposed to be a day when we remember the fallen soldiers of this country who have died in battle throughout the all too many wars our nation has fought.

When you really think about the reason for the day off of work and the observance of the holiday, it seems like less of a reason to celebrate and more of a reason for somber reflection on all that has been sacrificed so that we might shove too many hot dogs in our faces in the privacy of our backyards.

I’m not trying to be a downer, here. I would just like to encourage everyone out there to stop and think more often than once a year about all those who have gone before us, into battle, for this country.

Emile Durkheim defined military service as a form of altruistic suicide. He considered it the willing sacrifice of one’s life for the benefit of a greater number of people. Whether or not death actually resulted from service, the expectation of death existed nonetheless and thus the serviceman or woman had already forfeited his or her own life to a cause. When you think about it on those terms, it’s pretty heavy. It also deserves our gratitude.

Last Memorial Day, I wrote about my grandfather, a WWII veteran. He did not die in battle, but many years after. He enjoyed a long, full life with his family. Yet he went off to the war, fully understanding that he might never have returned to start the family that was so important to him throughout his life. Many young men and women have sacrificed just that for this country. They have forfeited a future, years of time with their family for this country and the people of it. If ever there was someone looking out for the rest of us from above, they would fit that profile.

I hope you enjoyed your weekend. You may have grilled burgers and drank beer like me. Perhaps you took advantage of the myriad sales and picked up a new set of patio furniture. Maybe you traveled and took in the purple mountains’ majesty or swam in the oceans white with foam. I’m sure every single red-blooded soldier would have wanted you to soak in every minute of it.

All I ask is that we not leave their memory behind once Memorial Day ends. Let us all return to work tomorrow, thankful that we were able to celebrate as we saw fit this past weekend. Let’s remember, on a daily basis, all those who have given their lives for our freedom. And if you aren’t a big fan of this country and how it operates, then remember that your right to say it sucks in an open forum has been defended by these same men and women.

To all you men and women of the armed forces who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, I extend my thanks.

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