Yesterday I was shopping in our local grocery store. The shelves were lined with American flags. Signs shouted discounts on hot dog buns and grilling supplies. Cakes were decorated with stars and stripes. Everything shouted, “America, f-yeah!” Now buy all the stuff!
This isn’t surprising. However, I can’t remember Memorial Day being so consumerly coopted like 4th of July, Halloween or Christmas. The day was always set aside to remember men and women who died for our country. Its meaning should be immune from our usual gluttony and debauchery. It is a “memorial” rather than a “celebration.”
Memorial Day serves as a reminder to me; that people routinely give their lives serving community and country. I want to believe this ultimate price was paid, not so I could have a three day weekend, but so I could live in peace and freedom. It is inspiring, humbling, and motivating. It is in many ways sacred.
Our military men and women have high ideals to live up to. They are Christ figures: called to serve others before they serve themselves, to protect human life and dignity, help the weak because they are strong, and perhaps have to die so others may live. It is not an easy job and comes with a heavy burden of responsibility and commitment. They must live the life of a hero.
They inspire me to do the same. I may not be called to military service; that ship passed me by. But I can still live my life by the ideals I like to believe these men and women died for: justice, liberty, and freedom in the spirit of community and country.
This does not mean the selfish, Darwinian freedom of the anarchist or the libertarian. It is not inspired by the justice of the dictator or the divine ruler. It is not motivated by the liberty from responsibility or duty. Memorial Day reminds me to be the same kind of servant leader the best of our military men and women are. In service to ALL Americans, wealthy and poor, strong and weak, educated and simple.
This means making willing sacrifices for the good of my community and country. Volunteering my free time rather than sitting in front of the television/computer for hours every day. Being frugal with my resources; living simply and in balance with others and with the environment. Giving away my excesses to those who are struggling. To be compassionate to the stranger and respectful to others. Finally, being willing to die so that others can live in peace.
This is what I believe our military service men and women are called to do, and I am inspired to do the same. This is the United States of America I believe in and that I want to protect. A nation of people who are servant leaders, inspiring the rest of the world, not to be better consumers, but to be better citizens and neighbors. Call me naïve, idealistic or crazy. But if Memorial Day serves as a yearly motivator not to take my own freedom and liberty for granted, and pushes me to be a better human being and citizen, then maybe we need a little more naivety and idealism and a little less hot dogs and grilling supplies.