Here in the American heartland, it is the Memorial Day holiday today.
Intended to call to mind a remembrance of the sacrifices made by American servicemen and women over the years, it is intended to be a day of reflection and honor for the fallen heroes of the U. S. military.
We have several holidays of this sort here in America. There’s Veterans’ Day, V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, V-J (Victory in Japan) Day, Armistice Day (as Veterans’ Day was originally called,)there’s Patriot’s Day (on September 11th) and – of course – Independence Day on the Fourth of July. I’m pretty sure that’s most of them, although it wouldn’t surprise me to learn I may have missed at least a couple. Like I said, we have a lot of them.
One could come away thinking America must be a rather somber place what with all these days stuffed into the calendar dedicated to remembering so many who have perished as a result of so many calamitous wars.
Perhaps it’s because there are so many of these types of holidays, but the unintentional effect seems to be that NONE of them are particularly somber. And most end up being unfortunately frivolous.
Americans – or at least many of those who are my contemporaries – feel put upon if they must be somber for any considerable amount of time. They don’t enjoy it. It doesn’t DO anything for them. They derive no tangible benefit from it. To borrow a phrase from my adopted field of work (Marketing,) there’s no ROI (Return On Investment.) There’s nothing to be gained in the sense of immediate gratification. It puts no money in your pocket, you don’t lose any weight or gain any substantial popularity. It doesn’t make you famous… or even infamous. Do the Kardashians observe Memorial Day? Does Rhianna? Beyonce? Ryan Gosling?
Let’s be candid. Memorial Day perseveres on the American calendar because it serves an alternative purpose: it demarcates the non-astronomical start of the Summer Vacation Season. It’s the boundary line at which the American economy is thought to shift from earnest work (September through May) to trivial self-gratification and leisure (June through August.) It’s when North America goes on vacation.
Or at least it used to be, anyway.
In the current economic climate, with fewer people gainfully employed and earning enough to pay all their bills and still have something left over, the once-traditional American vacation is no longer considered among the entitlements many enjoy.
There are fewer people who take the kind of time and expense that was once so much more common even 25 years ago.
I ought to know, I’m one of them.
Even 20 years ago, I had only one job. It was full-time. I worked at least 40 hours a week and it was extremely rare when I didn’t. I had benefits. I enjoyed my work: it was fun. With the kind of lost innocence that brings a pang to the bottom of the throat, I even had expectations of working for my employer at that time all the way until my retirement.
And, from time to time, I went on vacation. Sometimes I drove, occasionally I flew, but almost without doubt, I traveled. Sometimes across the state, sometimes across the region, occasionally, across the continent.
I don’t do that anymore. No, sir. Can’t afford it and wouldn’t know just where I’d want to go if I could. Is it me or does it sometimes seem as if nowhere on Earth is safe anymore?
Oh, I’m sure such places DO exist; they may even be plentiful in number. But they’re not getting the kind of attention that keeps them uppermost in our national consciousness.
Too bad, because we need to re-focus.
And that’s where Memorial Day comes in.
We need to stop thinking that the country or the world owes us safety or security or happiness. It doesn’t. These things are debts which we as human beings owe to ourselves. We have to make places secure. We owe it to ourselves to find our own happiness. And how do we do that? We must exert ourselves. We have to care.
It’s work. It takes strenuous effort and we are never guaranteed a successful outcome.
It’s kind of like being a soldier.
You set out with a task, a mission if you will. You strive to achieve it. You encounter challenges, sometimes failure. But sometimes, you also encounter success. If you’re blessed, you achieve that success sooner rather than later, but there are no sure or certain paths. You must try, you must make the attempt. And if you fail, you must resolve to try again. Because what you’re aiming for means enough to you that it’s worth it.
THAT’s what Memorial Day is all about.
Now before you get upset with me for getting on my soapbox, let me make something clear: I’m as guilty as the next guy.
I slept in this morning, I’ve spent most of the morning lazing around the house. We’ll be using the grill in the back yard later and yes, we’ll be charbroiling the usual suspects: hamburgers, hot dogs, some ribs, maybe even a little fish.
We’ll watch some TV. Maybe some basketball, baseball or hockey, more likely some kid-friendly movies. We won’t be staging any memorial services for the men and women who went out one day and never came back.
But I for one will be thinking about them. And I’m going to do my best to thank them in my heart.
Because my trivial self-centered life is the ROI for what they accomplished yesterday, last month, last year, last generation or over the past several centuries.
These precious people laid down their lives so that I could worry about where I left my drink, whether we have another jar of sweet relish in the fridge and whether I remembered to digitally record David Letterman the other night.
And it matters.
Happy Memorial Day.