05/23/20 A Different Memorial Day

So here we are in the “unofficial kick-off to summer.” It is Memorial Day weekend, and in the United States, this means a long weekend … three days in a row without work or school. For many students across the US, this often is the first weekend after school has wrapped up for the year, launching the kids into their summer activities.

I’ve heard lots of reporting about this weekend this year: airline travel bookings are down 80%; AAA won’t make its annual travel forecast because the pandemic has put a wrench in things; kids have essentially been out of school since mid-March; so many people have lost their jobs that a 3-day weekend has little meaning; picnics, parades and traditional cookouts aren’t happening because of social distancing rules. It goes on and on. Memorial Day is different.

Is it?

Memorial Day is an American federal holiday that was established in 1971 as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed by Congress in 1968. But the holiday traces its roots to the 1860’s after the Civil War had ended, when communities would gather in cemeteries to decorate the graves of the war’s fallen soldiers with flowers and flags. The community tradition spread and this day eventually came to be known as Decoration Day. The first official Decoration Day was held May 30, 1868, and General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery where 5,000 people gathered to decorate the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. Decoration Day evolved to commemorate American military personnel who have lost their lives in all military conflicts.

Last night, as I watched the national news, I heard an interview with the family members of fallen soldiers as they stood at the gravesides of their loved ones. In response to the question, “how is Memorial Day different for you this year?” one woman responded, “it’s not, because every day is Memorial Day for me.”

And isn’t that how it goes? When we are personally affected by something monumental, it defines how we act, feel, think, respond. I see that with the pandemic. For many who have suffered huge economic losses, they see the shuttering of businesses as an overreaction. For people who have lost loved ones to the virus or who have themselves been ill and fought for recovery, they see the social distancing requirements and the wearing of masks as a way to keep others from becoming ill and hopefully spare them the same fate. For people blessed to still be employed and have no firsthand or even secondhand experience with the virus, the whole response is an utter inconvenience that they are weary of having to endure.

Sure, there will always be those whose behavior is motivated principally by their personal experiences. It seems to be human nature. But what if we used this Memorial Day as it was intended? What if we paused from our daily activities to think about those who gave their lives fighting for this nation? What if we donned our masks and went to a cemetery and found a grave marker of a soldier and said “thank you?” What if we stepped outside of our own self-interest and put ourselves in the position of someone for whom every day is Memorial Day? What if we stopped and prayed for people we don’t know, who are mourning their fallen soldiers?

How might that change our perspective? If we start considering the sacrifices of others, perhaps that will seep into our inner beings and, little by little, morph our self-interest into empathy and compassion for the plight of others, whether we know them or not; whether we’re like them or not. Oh, what a world that would be when we start loving others as we love ourselves!

Is this Memorial Day different? I hope so.

Grace and peace to you as you journey.

Yours in Christ.