In researching the history of Memorial Day there are no shortages of references on the internet. Of all the definitions of Memorial Day the ones I found the one I found most stark was this one from Wikipedia.
“Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.”
At is core that definition is correct. It is a federal holiday. In the United States. And, it is intended to remember the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.
I have no knock against Wikipedia’s rather antiseptic definition of the day we will soon celebrate. Factually, it is clinically correct.
Yet, in the dark warmth of The Lodge, with my two children snuggled up on the pull-out couch playing some game on the iPad and the hummingbirds flitting back and forth to the feeder hung right outside the kitchen window, their Mom enjoying her sleep in the little bedroom not far from them, it hardly captures the breadth and scope of Memorial Day.
Millions of Americans will celebrate Memorial Day in a million different ways. Some, who lost a family member in one of America’s too many wars and conflicts, will truly remember the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.
Other Americans will hang flags. Perhaps stop at a cemetery and spend a silent moment remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.
There will be Americans who celebrate it on the lake, at a picnic, a family gathering or some other casual atmosphere that is afforded to them because of the holiday.
Of course, there will be millions of other Americans whose observance of Memorial Day will be behind a cash register, helping shoppers mix their paint or hauling a bag of groceries to a car for a customer.
My personal family history with Memorial Day has never been directly impacted by the loss of a family member in war or in the service of his or her country while in the country’s armed forces.
Yet, my entire life has been directly impacted by the loss of millions of Americans who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.
The very act of writing this blog post is the direct result of their ultimate sacrifice. My simple capacity to appreciate their sacrifice in my everyday life is the direct result of their service on behalf of the country where I was fortunate to be born to live.
Of all the gifts in my life equal to the gift of my own life and those of the birth of my children, the greatest gift I have ever known is that of being born in the United States of America.
Despite all that I can find wrong in this country I can find so many more things right about America. And, with any wrong in this country, I can also find so many ways to make it right in America.
Memorial Day reminds me of the simple blessing of being an American. And, while I am grateful for the holiday that allows me time with my family to do the things we have worked hard to enjoy, I am never far away from the knowledge that our ability to do so did not come without a price.
Every single day of my life on this planet in this place called America is Memorial Day for me.
While not every single day of my life on this planet has been the greatest day of my life, every day of it, in this country, I owe to a man or a woman I never knew whose life was lost to give me mine.
In spite of all that is wrong with the United States of America it should never be lost on any of us – those with the most and those with the least and everyone in between – we remain an exceptional nation.
We have millions of Americans who have given their lives to protect and preserve ours to thank for American Exceptionalism.
One can question the wars we’ve waged, or the leaders who brought us into them. We can even doubt the sincerity of the reasons behind the wars or the military actions that were fought in our name.
But, we should never diminish the sacrifice of the men and women who were called upon to fight them – to die in them – in our name.