Monday is Memorial Day. A day which coincides with the onset of warmer weather and is often referred to as the unofficial start of Summer. A day marked by barbecues, beach excursions, and generally speaking any activity which (after the long cold winter) fulfills that burning urge to do something outside. Memorial Day is synonymous with fun, and more specifically fun in the sun. However the origins of Memorial Day signify something far different than the annual celebrations in which we partake today. The holiday can be traced back to the 1860s to the day dubbed “Decoration Day” which was intended as a means for our fractured nation on the mend to grieve collectively following the Civil War. Mourning citizens would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers while taking a moment for silent reflection. Eventually this celebration of remembrance expanded to become a day to recognize and commemorate all fallen US soldiers killed as a result of their military service. Certainly there is no greater sacrifice for one’s nation than dying while defending its honor, and rightly so Memorial Day is intended as a chance for us to pause and reflect on just how lucky we are to have benefited so greatly from that sacrifice. But what I noticed this week is that somewhere along the line of beach forecasts, commercials for blowout sales, and grocery store chaos the way we commemorate those soldiers took a tangential route away from its source. Many of us seemingly forgot (or now simply choose to ignore) how we ended up in this present time where we can celebrate in such a joyous manner in the first place.
We act as if we are truly desperate for those first rays of summer sun to soak our faces at the beach, but imagine how much more we would appreciate the warmth of the sun if we first took a step back to acknowledge those who came before us, and how many made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. There is no reason, however, that we cannot do our very best as individuals to reignite some of that lost reflection. It can be as simple as doing a little research on the history of our military and learning a bit about the souls lost in combat. Or perhaps a trip to the local memorial cemeteries and monuments spread all across the country would allow for a new-found level of respect and admiration for those warriors. Take a momentary break from the glam and glitz of the Memorial Day parade to remember just exactly why they are marching down our streets in the first place. Because just maybe something as simple as engaging our children for an hour in a discussion about what the day truly symbolizes would enable the next generation to be more cognizant of the tragedies and triumph experienced by the greatest generation.