Sunday, May 26, 2013

What Is Memorial Day?

©2013 Susan Noyes Anderson

I came across a question yesterday
that troubled me enough to pose it here.
"What is the meaning of Memorial Day?
Why do we celebrate it every year?"

The answers were surprising to my mind.
"A day of memory," was one reply.
"We think about the good things in our lives
and raise a glass to happy days gone by."

Another wrote of barbecues and picnics.
"We throw a great big party," she explained.
"I bake a special cake: red, white, and blue.
It's yummy! Last year, not one piece remained."

"To visit cemeteries," someone countered.
"They used to call it 'Decoration Day.'
We decorate the graves of family members,
remembering the ones who've passed away."

At last, one man recalled our fallen soldiers,
brave souls who made the greatest sacrifice.
"These days," said he, "it seems we take for granted
the freedoms for which others paid the price."

"Memorial Day's for soldiers," he repeated,
"and while I love to visit Grandma's grave...
on this day, I pay tribute to the fallen:
the men, the women, and the lives they gave."

And I had to agree. Have we forgotten
the basic meaning of this holiday?
I find no fault in honoring lost loved ones
or making time for families, food, and play.

But let's be sure our children get the message,
undimmed by hope for peace or dread of war.
Our troops risk everything, as do their families;
and in their hearts, it's us they're fighting for.

We may not all agree on every battle;
but sometimes, only blood has kept us free.
These soldier's lives are rendered more than sacred
when yielded in defense of you and me.

Shall we forget our reverence for these heroes,
these patriots who've kept our nation strong?
Will we dismiss a history that earned us
the choice to protest freely, right or wrong?

I hope not. And I hope we keep believing
in all the things that made this land first-rate.
Let none of us lose sight of pride and valor,
or be ashamed to call our country great.

Too many are ashamed, or worse, indifferent.
As apathy extends its stealthy hand,
we're breaking up bedrock that used to ground us
and trading it for shallow, shifting sand.

We're letting go of touchstones: Does this serve us?
Have patriots become the new uncool?
Do flag salutes infringe on children's choices?
Should patriotic songs be banned at school?

Some view symbols as dated now, but are they?
Or are they links that forge a mighty chain?
Our lives are built upon the backs of heroes.
If freedom falls, they will have died in vain.

Can we afford to let go of traditions?
Is there no use in passing them along?
What does it mean when we stand for the anthem,
yet few recall the words to that great song?

What will it mean when no one stands at all...
not for the anthem, nor for anything?
The pride of cynics "goes before a fall."
The pride of patriots lets freedom ring.

Our freedom rings through cities, states, and regions.
It rings across the mountains and the streams.
Give heed! Preserve the fabric of our nation
and raise that standard high on patriot dreams.

Hold fast to all we are and all we've stood for.
Lift up our fallen troops in memory.
Memorial Day is more than food and flowers.
It's nurturing the roots that made us free.

Sorry to wax pedantic today, but this thread I ran across at disturbed me. Most of the posters truly did not know the origins and/or meaning of Memorial Day, which brought up all kinds of concerns I have about the direction our country is headed. No one wants to be stuck in the past, but it doesn't make sense to throw out the baby with the bath water, either. So much of our proud history bears preserving, and traditions are unifying by nature. We could use a little more unity right now, if I'm not mistaken. But we still need common threads to weave that tapestry. And honor and respect have no expiration dates.



Wendy said...

Thank you for elegance in words. It is to remember those who still and did stand for the right.

Terra said...

Your post is beautiful and I see we share the same views. Let freedom ring.
In church today all the veterans stood up and we applauded them and watched a short film about their heroism.

yaya said...

This post is wonderful. I think we do need more flag waving, patriotic song singing, and parade watching. Learning the words to our county's anthem should be required before one graduates high school. I was a bit upset today as nothing was mentioned about Memorial day at patriotic songs, no talks....but I'm not forgetting. I remember too well the ones that fell in Vietnam and how my Dad felt about WWII...I'm looking forward to honoring those that gave the ultimate sacrifice tomorrow with our town's annual parade and ceremony at the cemetery. I hope your day is wonderful Sue. Thanks for the reminder for everyone.

Gail said...

Wonderfully said and so very true.

Now can we get this out to a billion or two people???

Grandma Honey said...

So well written Sue! I couldn't agree with you more. I was wondering earlier today how many, especially in the newer generations, know what we are celebrating tomorrow. But I didn't realize it was this bad. I think a small part of this problem is the fact that we combine this great day with a weekend and call it good. When we were growing up it was always May 30th. We took off that day no matter where in the week it it its own significance.

21 Wits said...

Oh my you hit the perfect cord in my heart with this post. Bravo, and may we light the path for all those little ones in our care, so they will know this! You sure are sweet to put out those flags. So many of those that are gone and laid to rest never get a visitor all year long.

Cheryl said...

This country's unique holidays honoring our forebears and our military lost much of their meaning and original messages when we started celebrating them as part of a 3-day weekend after the passage of the Uniform Holiday Act (passed in June 1968; effective January 1971). The cost of closing federal, state, county, and local government buildings for a day midweek was becoming cost-prohibitive.

I don't know how much history about the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and the Korean conflict is being taught in public schools today. So many 'conflicts' have come and gone since then. These were the wars that lead to the observance of Memorial Day. That we as a country acted disgracefully towards those who served, died, were captured, and are still MIA in Vietnam led to another chink in the holiday.

Unless each generation teaches the next, the true meaning of this holiday will be forever lost.

karen said...

Beautifully and eloquently said. It's sad how so many people don't really know that the day is for. We need to do a better job teaching our families to remember our fallen heroes and spend at least this one day honoring them in some way - fly a flag, cemetery ceremonies, parades. Family gatherings and traditions are great, but everyone should be taught why we honor this day.

Brian Miller said...

hope you had a great memorial is good to remember why we have this day...its greater than cookouts and such, though those things help us remember what we are thankful for and what was made possible by the sacrifice of others....

EG CameraGirl said...

I think it was a mistake to change the date every year and always celebrate Memorial Day on a Monday to make it a long weekend. Now most people think of it as the kick-off to summer fun rather than a day to remember. Just sayin".

Amy said...

I don't think you were pedantic at all. This is so very true. So many of the basic morals and standards our country were founded on are disintegrating. I am not proud to say, it wasn't until recently that I learned Memorial Day was for soldiers. I thought it was for our loved ones who had passed on. I thought Labor Day was for the soldiers, and veteran's day. You'd think I would know better with my own father being a veteran. I am happy to say that I now know better, and I am teaching my children the real reason for Memorial Day.

LeAnn said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I to am worried about the direction our country is taking. Recently, I attended my grandson's 3rd grade grandparents day program. It was a wonderful one. They sang patriotic songs and had grandparents stand that had served their country. At least in this school they hadn't lost touch with what our country stands for. My grandfather fought in the 1st World War and was killed in France. I never knew him. I want my children and grandchildren to know about him and other in our family who have served this great country. It is up to us to make that happen. You wrote a marvelous post.
Hugs and blessings for you!

Unknown said...

Best description of Memorial Day ever. And said so beautifully. You amaze me. Hope it was a memorable day for you.

Helena said...

It is sad to know that the relevance of MD is being lost to other reasons.

Pictures and poem so powerful. I hope this is read by many!

Cathy Kennedy said...

Beautiful remembrance. BTW, I posted birthday wishes on my site on Friday. I've been very sick for weeks and have fallen behind on blogging and for that I'm sorry my post was so short. I hope you had a spectacular birthday with family & friends!

4 Lettre Words said...

Really beautiful, Sue...and I hope you enjoyed your week!