Our shared responsibility on Memorial Day
If children are confused about the meaning of Memorial Day, that’s on us. Collectively, we have not been the best stewards of the most somber of our national holidays. As time sweeps further from its origins in the wake of the Civil War — and its declaration as a federal holiday on May’s last Monday during the Vietnam War — it has been reduced to a synonym for the dawn of summer. Even that characterization is wildly misguided, as the season won’t begin until June 21.
Of course, there’s also the nagging identity crisis Memorial Day shares with Veterans Day, though we won’t stop you from thanking a veteran on this, or any other day of the year.
Even the history of the holiday has gotten muddy. More towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day than the cradle of baseball. Much of this is apocryphal.
Still, someone (we’re not sure who) had the right idea sometime about 150 years ago (don’t hold us to a specific date). All that matters is that those who gave their lives for our country deserve for us to take some time to contemplate their sacrifices. None of us should need a reminder on the calendar, but we are fortunate to have one.
Eighteen years ago, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which encourages Americans to pause for one minute at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day to remember those who died protecting our freedoms.
It’s not asking a lot. Actually, it’s not asking enough. We’re not dismissing the reality that this three-day weekend has inherited many welcome American traditions, such as the kickoff of the beach-and-barbecue season and the Indianapolis 500. But a generation that can document each meal on social media needs a nudge to rediscover the solemn origins of this day. Attendance at local parades is too sparse.
So let’s start some new Memorial Day traditions. Let’s remind one another that this is a time to think about the reasons for wars, past, present and future. This year’s Memorial Day arrives at a time when the world’s see-saw seems tilted closer to future wars than to pending peace.
With that as a backdrop, we need to recognize our common ground, to celebrate our freedoms and fiercely cling to them.
This is no time to dismiss sacrifices on behalf of our nation’s principles. So consider taking the time this Memorial Day to ponder a flag on a stranger’s grave. Mark the parade on your cell phone calendar so you don’t squander the chance to participate. Explore the history of those in your personal orbit for someone who gave their life for our nation. Share stories of such sacrifices on social media. Visit a veteran. Raise the flag at half-mast until noon, as per American tradition.
Take that single minute to honor the many who have fallen.
In words and action, teach children the meaning of Memorial Day.
This year’s Memorial Day arrives at a time when the world’s see-saw seems tilted closer to future wars than to pending peace.