Every year I ask myself the same question: why is it the few can take the many into chaos they will never experience and then avert their eyes from the damage they’ve caused? Could Memorial Day be reduced to a cliche in the same way that ‘thoughts and prayers’ has become the mantra of people who really don’t want to waste more than a couple of syllables on reflection: ‘Remember and Honor’. This and this, that and that. String the commiseration together. Jose Narosky reminded us: ‘In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.’ We must do better than this…
Memorial Day never struck me as a mini-Black Friday, the day to run to the nearest holiday sales or tell anyone who will listen, “Thank God I’ve got Monday off!” Memorial Day is about remembering. A day to do what we should do everyday: remember our veterans. Those who died in combat or from the battles that rage in their minds long after they return.
I write about veterans because I respect what they have done. I may not respect the politics that put them in harm’s way but I respect their self-sacrifice, especially in a time when being self-satisfied seems to have become a mantra for America.
I’ve mentioned before that I come from a military family: father, husband and son have all served in different branches of the US military. I don’t believe any American does not know at least one person who served.
My adult life has been a search for my Dad, an Army veteran so broken in body and mind that he spent most of the year occupying a bed at the VA hospital in Vermont. I grew up there. I was the only kid I knew who ate dinner at the hospital commissary, a quonset hut left over from the war, or first tasted the wonders of a black and white ice cream sundae supplied by a sympathetic hospital cook. And I’m fairly certain that riding in the back of an ambulance with your Dad is not a normal childhood experience.
I mention this because I don’t want any of us to forget. Memorial Day isn’t a bunch of old men standing around a forgotten town memorial saluting the flag. There isn’t an American who hasn’t been touched by war; we’ve had too many of them. It’s hard for us to see the young soldier hiding in the wrinkles of a 90-year-old. And it’s a stretch to try to fathom the experiences of a generation of young men and women sent to places with names we struggle to pronounce. But we must do that for them and for us as a nation.
Memorial Day is the gateway to a red, white and blue summer. But we’ve lost the sense of what the day means. We don’t come to earth long enough to think about what this special day symbolizes and why we need to join those folks around the town memorial. We’ve moved the date from May 30 to one more convenient for a short holiday. We publish sale flyers weeks in advance and hope the weather holds to get in the tomato plants. What we lack in all the noise is a sense of generations and the legacy of having someone in the family come back from war. Or not.
Maybe what we need to remember in this country is that once upon a war we were all in it together. We don’t need another war to teach us that lesson. Or maybe as Andy Rooney told us: we don’t really need a Memorial Day to remember the dead so much as to remember all the young people who will die in future wars if we don’t make war disappear forever.
Memorial Day for me is a little girl pushing a wheelchair down the endless hallways of a hospital filled with sick, injured and dying veterans. We must do better than this.