My father served in the U.S. Marine Corps and fought in Vietnam. He doesn’t talk about it much. Growing up, I don’t remember it being the topic of conversation or discussion much at all. From what I have heard him say and the few pictures I have seen, that was a very dark and difficult time in his life. Men died. Men he knew and lived with and served with. Men who, in their own ways, loved one another.
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day shortly after the Civil War.2 It was a day when people in the North and the South decorated the graves of those who died in the war. After World War I, the holiday was broadened to include service members who died in all the country’s wars. In 1971, Congress officially set the day as the last Monday in May.
For those of us who did not serve, and certainly for those who have not lost someone in service to our country, it is easy to see today as just a holiday. The first weekend at the lake. A day to be lazy at the park or pool. An opportunity to get out the grill and get summer under way. I would encourage you to consider it as more than that.
We have talked about a compassionate community, a community based on a culture of love. Memorial Day is an opportunity for us to remember the loss and pain others feel. This day might not be a party—in emotional terms—for many of those around us. Remembering, grieving, and experiencing the return of emotions from other times and places is necessary and can be healthy, especially if it occurs in the context of an empathetic and supportive community.
I am not suggesting that you cancel the cookout or come home from the lake. Sometimes the best way to manage loss and pain is to replace them with better experiences and emotions.
Last week was an emotional week for me. Memories and feelings were close to the surface in everything I did. On Friday, my good friends and I went to the U2 Joshua Tree concert in Dallas. Five years before, that day was filled with pain, uncertainty, and loss. This year, I replaced much of that pain with fellowship, beauty, and wonder.
We cannot do the work of processing the past and creating positive futures for others, but we can support and encourage them in their work. Acknowledging that someone is grappling with these things takes some of the power away from the past and gives energy to the person he or she wants to become.
Memorial Day opens the door for us to say, “I hope you’re having a meaningful day,” and perhaps we can be part of making that true.