This is the first year I have gone into Memorial Day understanding what it feels like to lose someone. It makes a difference.
Growing up, Memorial Day had very little significance to me. As a girl, I often confused it with Veterans Day and sometimes even Labor Day. We were honoring people who served, right? Did they have to be military? Was it only for the fallen? No one really explains all this to a kid at the family barbecue. I didn’t think to ask, anyway.
As an adult, the holiday did not gain much weight in my mind. It seemed something typical for a nation to do – to honor those who gave their lives so that we might live ours.
But now that I know what it feels like to lose someone, this holiday makes so much more sense. Now that I have witnessed the devastation and heartache that ripples through a community when one of its sons or daughters does not come home, I see why this day matters to our country.
Memorial Day was actually begun in response to the Civil War, which took more than half a million American souls on both sides. Then, it was called Decoration Day. It was a time to lay flowers on tombstones and let the fallen know they are not forgotten.
How poignant a tribute to a country so freshly wounded by the sting of war, communities so deeply affected by its wrath.
The East Coast lives in constant memory of that war, with cemeteries all along its coast, reminding us of what we lost, reminding us how much was paid to keep this union together and to make it better for all men.
But not all our dead lie peacefully in a grave near their loved ones.
Since the U.S. has started keeping track of its soldiers by use of dog tags at the turn of the twentith century, there have been roughly 82,000 servicemen and women who have been reported MIA or killed in action but not recovered.
The Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Washington D.C. is a sober reminder that some of our fallen were not laid to rest at home, though we hope their souls have found peace.
How much harder for those families, still clinging to a sliver of hope that their son might come home from the carnage of war by some miracle.
Memorial Day is as much for the living as for the dead. Afterall, our boys and girls won’t see the wreaths we hang or the tears we shed.
No, this day is for us. It is a day when we come around each other, setting aside our differences – which are many at the moment – and grieve together.
We grieve for the loss of life, for the pieces of our communities that will never be returned, for the futures that will never be lived out by their hands.
As much as thinking about our fallen from the World Wars, or our mid-recent engagements in Southeast Asia, let us also think about those who have not made it back in the last decade.
The war in the Middle East is controversial, and it has been longer than any of us expected. But our nation has an open wound. We lost 15 Americans in 2018 and my heart aches for the families and friends of each.
Just for today, let us lay down our swords and come together on the green of the cemetery. Maybe, by remembering our fallen together, we can move forward in the same direction, having found some common ground.