Somewhere around 9:30 last night I was hanging out with some family when some fireworks started going up a few blocks away. Quizzical eyebrows raised and someone commented, “Oh. It’s Memorial Day.”
And someone else proceeded to make the most memorable remark of the evening:
“Isn’t that like setting off fireworks at a funeral?”
Through the course of last night and today, I watched the atmosphere around me and analyzed my attitude toward this holiday. As of late last week, it was the first holiday of the summer, a day off to spend time with family, and excuse to cook out (or barbeque, depending upon your geographic vernacular), and celebrate. Many used today to go to the local pool, drink a couple too many, and relax. Three day weekend! We all love those.
As I’ve thought about this, however, it seems that we have mixed up our holidays. Were the July 4th, I would be in more of a festive cookout mood. Were this labor day, I would be in more of a celebratory mindset. Those days are set aside to reflect and celebrate our independence, and a well-earned time off for hard work.
Memorial Day, however, isn’t that.
My father served in Vietnam. He was hated by his own countrymen when he returned. Some of his friends didn’t make it home. I never truly appreciated (and still cannot truly understand) what he had experienced until several years ago, the last time I was in D.C., when I walked the length of the Vietnam Memorial. If you’ve ever done that, you can relate to the fact that my mind could not truly comprehend the number of names of the dead. I remember thanking him the next time I saw him.
The war in Iraq had cost, the last time I counted, the lives of 3,000 American troops. That’s more, if memory serves, than we lost on September 11th. While I initially agreed with the war, I personally think it’s time to get out now. We’ve done the good we’re going to do. However, whether or not you support the war in it’s current state, our liberty to express our disagreements are defended with the life of those brave enough (braver than I) to travel across the world and die for America. Every one of those 3,000 lives, and the millions from previous wars and conflicts, meant something to someone. They were a father, a mother, a daughter, a son, a brother, a sister, a companion, a friend. Many lives were left void for each death. Many dreams were left unrealized, many lips left un-kissed, many secrets left un-whispered.
Those lives are what we commemorate today, those brave souls who we honor. Yet we have turned it into one more reason to have a party, reduced it to one more long weekend, and began celebrating it as a “Beginning of Summer Day” instead of what it truly means. We live it up in a luxury that these men and women have died to defend. Whether or not you agree with this war or any other, we must respect those who sacrifice all for our country. Sadly, we disrespect them when we twist this holiday into what we have.
I guess we’ll do anything to celebrate.