Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, the end of the school year, the opening of community pools, the first sounds of outdoor concerts, and the snowmelt that clears the way for camping and what not. Let the good times roll. Right?
Of course, we’ll pause at some point during the three-day weekend to remember why we have Monday off in the first place. But how many of us, I wonder, will give more than a casual thought to the 1.8+ million Americans who have given their lives in wars of long ago and on the distant battlefields of today? Obviously, we won’t mean to belittle the significance of the holiday or disregard those it was set aside to honor. After all, we really are grateful for their service and for our freedom…and all that. Right? We just get caught up in other things sometimes…and forget to remember.
Originally known as Decoration Day, the 30th of May was designated in 1868 to remember the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. The date, intentionally chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle, would become a day to “cherish tenderly the memory of our heroic dead…and guard their graves with sacred vigilance…as a fitting tribute.” In the typical eloquence of the day, General John A. Logan penned the proclamation, calling “for the strewing of flowers and other decorations on the graves of comrades…whose bodies lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
“Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic. If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us. Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved…and renew our pledges to aid and assist those…left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”
I don’t know about you, but my less-than-intentional plans for the weekend suddenly seem incomplete. I think I may visit a cemetery. Strew some flowers. Raise a flag. Do something fitting of the occasion that keeps my gratitude from running cold. Maybe take 4:35 minutes, instead of just a passing moment, to honor those who have given their lives for the freedoms we all hold dear.
The least we can do, right?