It always seems in bad taste to say Happy Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is supposed to be the day we honor those who have sacrificed their lives while defending their country. It dates back to 1868 when General John Logan proclaimed in General Order 11 http://www.usmemorialday.org/order11.html
“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”
I used to think Memorial Day was about everyone who died. I would take flowers and flags to the graves of all my relatives- sometimes spending two days driving around Northern California and walking through cemeteries, thinking of the lives that once were.
Often, my son would accompany me. We would read different headstones and wonder about all the people in their graves. Once when we were looking for my great- grandmother’s grave we happened upon a part of the cemetery that started being used in 1885. Their graves had been forgotten, overgrown with weeds and I’m sure forgotten by ancestors. Their headstones were weathered and hard to read but we stopped at many of them anyway. So many of them were children and young adults, too young to be there. That part of the cemetery had an eerie feeling- a lot of sadness.
My son would also perform this ritual with his father- visiting Japanese cemeteries. He noted once that the Japanese didn’t seem to forget their loved ones buried for eternity- like we do. I think he was glad I never forgot my relatives.
After my son joined the Marine Corps- I realized exactly what Memorial Day was. It’s to honor those who have given their life to defend our great Nation. It’s not really about Veterans and loved ones. Only after he became a Marine did I educate myself about all things war; all things great and horrible at once.
When Nick was stationed at Annapolis, he participated in the Flag-In ceremony at Arlington. He said it was an honor- and very moving to put a flag in the grave and salute to every single man and woman buried there.
Now, I don’t understand why these people are not honored everyday- by all of us. I think it’s okay to have your picnic and parade, spend the day on your boat, hiking in the mountains, cemetery hopping if you will… but we should not forget the people that allow us these freedoms. Give them a moment at least, or better yet, wake up everyday grateful to the people that serve our country. Say thanks while they are alive.
Surely, the relatives of all the people who have died in wars don’t only remember them on Memorial Day.
Everyday, I will honor those who have sacrificed their lives so I may live mine in freedom. It’s not that hard really. You do it by trying to do the right thing by everyone, by not being selfish and worrying about only yourself, by looking at the bigger picture and not focusing on what’s wrong but how you can fix it. You do it by being generous of spirit, forthright and genuine.
Have a thoughtful Memorial Day everyone.