Monday, May 25, 2009
Memorial Day is a day of grilling and celebration, children eager for the end of school, pools and beaches newly reopened. It's a time to celebrate the beginning of a vibrant season.
Of course, we all also know the bigger significance of the holiday, but it's not the focus of the "celebrations," is it? Perhaps it's too much of a contrast with the liveliness of the world at this time of year. I find it hard to focus on the real meaning of Memorial Day, too. It's heartbreaking.
For those who have served and returned home bereft of friends who died in the field, the day must feel otherworldly. Their focus must frequently fall on remembering, not just today, but every day. And what is today like for those families who have lost someone? What must it be like to watch the little flags waving along a parade route, to see the fliers advertising Memorial Day sales on watermelon or hotdogs or lawn furniture? How little the normal world recognizes the bizarre contrast between picnic parties and remembering those who won't return home to share another family holiday.
Life certainly goes on, and celebrating summer is important, of course. But I'm making a point today to stop, with gratitude, and recognize that today is also about the people who willingly step into harm's way to serve in the military. Think what you will of the war in Iraq, or Afghanistan, those who serve there are made of something special to do what they do.
Last year, I received from a dear friend of mine a book that details the heroic service of just one of the many Marines who have served in Iraq. The book is called The Gift of Valor. In it, author Michael Phillips draws the vivid portrait of Marine Corporal Jason Dunham. Heartwrenching and illuminating, the story of this brave young man and those with whom he served stays in my mind. It is worth the time to read to get a feeling for the type of work that our military service members do every single day. While not all of them have to make the sacrifice that Jason did, they are cut from the same cloth: they will step up and give whatever they have because they have sworn to, because they have a sense of what it means to honor their commitment to each other.
These are huge thoughts that try to flee my mind because it's just too hard to hold onto them for too long. But I pull them back and back again today, and I'll say a prayer of thanksgiving to know the brave service members I do. I'll say another prayer of thanksgiving for the service of those like Corporal Dunham.
The vets will raise their flag in our small-town square this afternoon, and certainly their thoughts will honor their friends who didn't get to come back and mark the beginning of another summer. I will join them, with my hand on my heart.
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