Some Memorial Day Thoughts
Today the nation observes Memorial Day, an official federal holiday since 1971, an unofficial one since the days following the Civil War, when there were 620,000 war dead to mourn (nearly half of all Americans who’ve fallen in battle). In my hometown, it was the day of our one annual parade. This gave it a certain weight and importance in my life, and yet its meaning remained somewhat vague and abstract. Which is a blessing — because for it to have been concrete would mean to have lost someone I knew, or knew something about, in battle.
In recent months though I have been filling out the picture of my family’s history, and have found several ancestors and other relatives who’ve perished fighting every American war through World War Two, going all the way back to to the 1600s. I’ll latch onto these men in particular now in my annual contemplation on Memorial Day, not because they were more important than anyone else who gave their lives, but because it helps to know what’s been lost when you can measure the cost: the widows, the orphans, the dashed dreams of parents. A farm without a farmer. A town without a blacksmith. They were people with names and identities and ties to the people around them, part of the fabric of their society, torn out with great suddenness in the course of protecting the people and the country they loved. And some continue to make the sacrifice even as we speak.
You can quibble (or even take great issue), as we all do, with the actions of politicians and bureaucrats and generals, but you can’t argue with the reality of grief and sorrow and loss which is the point of this day. Humans have been honoring their dead for tens of thousands of years. To stop doing that, ever, would be to become a cold people indeed.