Memorial Day will come this weekend. Hundreds of flags will rise over Greenwood Cemetery, and an annual ceremony will be held to commemorate the holiday. It’s worth attending if you haven’t already made plans to go.
In a larger sense, the holiday makes for a three-day summer weekend, often used as a time for family, grilling and a trip to the lake. Area residents will likely embark on such trips, though a trip to the lake at this point with all the rain we’ve been having might simply be a walk into their backyard.
Yet Memorial Day, for all our plans, represents one of the most solemn holidays we celebrate. It is a day to remember our war dead and our past veterans.
It is a day where the larger reality of history and the world pierces the bubble of safety we live inside to remind us that our fellow American citizens throughout our history have lost their lives in defense of our country or our country’s foreign policy goals.
An increasingly polarized society has the risk of flattening and simplifying such a holiday. Flags, veterans, soldiers, civil ceremony is regularly co-opted to serve various political messages, to quash dissent, to further agendas and to appeal to a love of patriotism over a well-thought-out understanding of what such a love entails when we are asked to send our children to war.
Even as we write this again, our country is being rallied toward another Middle Eastern war, after decades and thousands of lives lost in the same region.
Memorial Day serves as a time to say thank you and a time to be reminded of lives lost.
And that reminder should not be flattened, because it has multiple facets.
We must remember the bravery shown by the fallen war dead, as well as the abject horror of a situation that necessitates such bravery, the situation that forces you to kill other human beings, endure grave bodily injures, and deeper mental scarring that echoes through the following decades.
There are the strategies and the purported goal of keeping loved ones safe at home that ramp up with a war and the reality that our strategies and ideals will result in the death of our loved ones who serve.
There is the pride that comes to families and parents from their children’s contributions. But there is also the powerful and terrible faith one must make in a larger power, as Abraham did with Isaac, to watch a child lay down upon an altar or for the child to walk willingly.
We have so often celebrated in the glory and triumph of war, but each war results in the failure of human kind, of governments, of those making decisions to value peace, life and understanding over the greed, hate and ignorance that stand at the root of any conflict.
In turn, pride and love of country is a double-sided sword. It can inspire bravery and greatness, but violent, cruel men have turned it outward and against others for personal gain, a result repeated over and over throughout modern history by country after country.
The end of war and all its horror and sacrifice should be peace.
It is in that spirit of peace that we ask for people to observe a moment or two of quiet reflection on this Memorial Day to remember those who have fallen, those who have served and those who have returned home far from whole, leaving part of themselves forever in the conflict.
We should remember the full price of war, the full cost of lives and futures and the support of veterans that must come after.
We should hold these things in our hearts when we make decisions on our leaders, direction and our words so as to evaluate if future war is worth such a terrible price. We owe such contemplation to those who’ve already sacrificed.
This Memorial Day, let us give thanks for those who paid such a price, willingly or out of obligation, and pray that those sacrifices be the last.