I was taught at a very young age, the meaning of Memorial Day and the weekend that we celebrate every year. From the earliest I can remember, my grandmother and aunt would gather my sister and I, to watch a small parade of veterans, march to a triangular intersection around 4th and North Streets in a small town of Emmaus, Pa. A decent sized group would gather around a memorial, a service would be held honoring our fallen vets, and the service would conclude with a 21-gun salute. Vets belonging to our local VFW would hand out hand made flowers with wire stems, recognizing Memorial Day. And as many Pennsylvanians would agree, especially this year, this time of year, the weather was often gray, damp, just plain miserable. Quite fitting actually for such a sad day really.
For me, like many others, Memorial Day has morphed into something that it was totally not intended to be, like Christmas and Easter holidays for Christians (Santa and chocolate bunnies). And admittedly, I fell into this trap. Memorial Day is the unofficial kickoff to the Summer (which officially does not start for a few more weeks). This weekend is the reminder for many, that it is time to start thinking vacations. We have barbeques, picnics, and for some of us, beach time.
I cannot speak for others, but even as we were having our fun times this weekend, I did continue to recognize our men and women who served, and lost their lives.
In my mid-20’s, a different outlook towards Memorial Day was given to me. In my church one particular year on Memorial Day weekend, the minister made his traditional recognition of those who served, but he also mentioned that on this day, we should also take this day to memorialize those we have lost, even if not having served. We may realize the special date of a loved one who has passed, or their birthday, or some other day. But we really may not take time to truly memorialize someone on those days as they pass. And it seemed like a wonderful thing to do, that my pastor had us give names of loved ones who had passed, and remember them, along with our fallen heroes.
Recently, my youngest daughter posed the question to me, “I thought we honored our vets on Veterans Day?” As a cancer survivor, this was a question that I knew I could easily handle, the difference between “honor” and “memorialize.” And there is the difference. On Veterans Day, we “honor” our servicemen and servicewomen who are serving in our military. We “honor” the living. On Memorial Day, we “remember” those who died fighting for our country while in the military. We memorialize those who have passed.
Regardless of what your plans are for the weekend, picnics, parties, beach, fireworks, please be safe, and have a nice weekend. But also, please take some time to remember those who gave their lives so that we can have the freedom which allows us to celebrate the coming summer months.
I am now of age where I have lived through several wars, and like my parents and grandparents, I now have my share of friends and family who unfortunately lost their lives in battle. They will always be in my thoughts.