I’ve been struggling today to come up with or find a single phrase or sentiment that would adequately express my thoughts about Memorial Day this year. Many of my friends did quite well with that. It has worked for me in the past. This year nothing was singing for me. So at the risk of being labeled an ingrate, I remained silent.
Then a friend, someone who served in the military, wrote about how this day is to honor not all veterans, but those who never made it home.
And then I saw a clip from an HBO drama in which a (fake) news guy tells a college assembly this isn’t the greatest country on Earth. My thought was, “Shame on me if he’s right.” The show seems unrealistic to me, because after dropping an F-bomb to that college audience and asserting we’re not No. 1, he keeps his job. In the real America he’d be handed his exit papers moments after he was coerced into making an apology.
That clip, coupled with my friend’s take, took me to my real thoughts about Memorial Day, and the best ways I can express thanks to those who never made it home.
For one, I can be grateful I never had to join the military to be in public service. This country hasn’t drafted people in 40 years. I live in a military community and I’ve met many people who seem wired for that kind of work, but there are others who are in there because one day they looked around and saw no better option to get them out of the lives they to which they felt otherwise destined. I had other options and I took them. I bought things on credit when it probably wasn’t wise and I took jobs I knew I wasn’t suited for. I learned from those mistakes and major part I owe some of that learning to those who never came home.
Second, I will resist jingoistic nationalism that declares, “We’re No. 1!” as if that declaration alone makes it so. I wave a flag today in gratitude, not to shove it in the face of people who can see my yard from Canada. Other nations have taken up the same cause of liberty, probably through our nation’s example, and have created free nations as well. Some, perish the thought, may be doing freedom better than we are. But they should remind us that our status as a great country takes work, and sacrifice, a concern for the rights of the individual and for the rights of the whole.
Third, as a citizen I will not assume that everyone who works for the government is some shiftless, lazy bureaucrat with little or no job skills. At the same time, I will demand that those government workers take care with the tax money I and other Americans provide to do what we ask. That includes the military.
Fourth, I can stop resenting those who want the same things I have. Whether they live in foreign nations or emigrate to mine, their commitment to this ideal makes the world better. Freedom isn’t really freedom if it’s limited to those who are born with it.
Fifth, I will vote in November. And during the process I will set aside the lies and the labels and pick someone for president who I believe is best able to handle that responsibility. The same goes for Congress, my state and my county. I will dismiss all commercial sound bites and shouting points and instead study for myself the resumes and the records of the candidates. People can outspend me in an effort to sway my vote, but my vote is my responsibility.
Sixth, I will take days like today and grill burgers on the barbecue and picnic with my family. I’ll watch baseball and dispute the umpire. I’ll complain about what’s not on Netflix. You died to give me that right, too.
Finally, just because I probably won’t end up dying for my country does not mean I cannot still lay down my life for it. I can work every day to make this country worthy of that ultimate sacrifice so many gave. I can be skeptical without being cynical. I can question my own ideas of what’s right for this country and make different choices if I need to do. I have the freedom to be wrong about things and to change my mind.
To those who didn’t make it home, I’m working hard to be worthy of your sacrifice. I’m trying to raise children who will one day make huge mistakes and have big successes, and to through it all be grateful for that chance. I know I can probably never repay you for what you did, but thanks to you I have that freedom, too.