Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

I woke up this morning, thinking about this post and this day, and as a consequence it seems odd to me, and faintly repellent, that today people will "celebrate" Memorial Day. That today people will shop for bargains, picnic, maybe drink a beer, for what reason? To celebrate our servicemen and women?

And yet, on reflection, that's precisely what we should be doing. Of course, it goes without saying, that we should also take a moment to reflect on their sacrifices. We should raise a flag, or at the very least, stop and gaze at one with wonder and admiration.

But the ability to carry on our daily life, to bustle about reveling in consumerism, to enjoy our families, and to toast the good life we enjoy...isn't that what our military have fought to preserve? And please don't think that I'm not ignoring the more important freedoms such as the right to assemble peacefully, the right to free speech, and the right/obligation to choose our leaders. I'm just repeating something my father told me years ago. "Sugar, we're blessed that with the exception of the revolutionary and civil wars, there's never been a war fought on our land."

In Europe, everywhere you go, there are shrines to the fallen. Here, there are a few, mainly at courthouses and in graveyards, but there you are constantly reminded of the price of freedom, as the ground is soaked with the blood of those who have died for the simplest of liberties.

Here, thanks to the brave ones who have sacrificed so much, we enjoy an enviable lifestyle, a way of living that the rest of the world covets.

Maybe that's the way it should be.

Yesterday, I finished reading ONE WAS A SOLDIER, the most recent in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Spencer-Fleming's characters struggle mightily with their re-entry into non-combat society. Each warrior is beset by regrets, nightmares, addictions, and loss. But at some point, most of the characters come to realize that their sacrifices were not taken lightly. The quotidian dreariness of daily life is proof that they made a difference, because as Maslow put it when crafting his hierarchy of human needs, there can be no art, no higher level of human achievement unless our basic needs for safety, food and shelter are met. Those needs are so basic that most of the time we take them for granted. As we will today.

Last night, I watched "Taking Chance," an excellent film starring Kevin Bacon as a colonel who escorts a fallen soldier's remains back to Montana. It's based on a real situation, and a real fallen hero, Lance Corporal Chance Phelps. All along the way, ordinary Americans pause in their hurried lives to honor the remains of this young man, a warrior they never met. Their actions spoke to me of the innate decency of my countrymen.

So yes, it seems odd that we're gathering together to have a picnic, or laugh with friends, or share a bowl of ice cream with family...but aren't those the hallmarks of a peaceful society? And taking a day off does not mean that on a deeper, fundamental level, we aren't all saying, "Thank you, a million times over," to the brave men and women who gave their lives so that we can enjoy ours today in such simple, uncomplicated ways.

God bless America!


Sonja said...

Amen, Joanna. As usual, well said! As the daughter and wife of U.S. Army soldiers, I concur wholeheartedly!

Linda O. Johnston said...

I just heard a general speak on the Today Show, Joanna, and although I'm paraphrasing he said that Memorial Day is an appropropriate day to celebrate--freedom. And to thank the many who served our country over its existence. So--let me add my thanks to everyone else's.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Sonja, they also serve who tend the homefires. Thank you!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Yes, Linda, we should celebrate our freedom--hard won, but robust.