Memorial Day, some would argue, has become a weekend-long, red-white-and-blue display of our discomfort dealing with the deceased. When I came across the following passage some years back on a now-defunct website, it struck me as a pithy, if slightly sad, summation of how the day has been denatured in recent decades…
Begun as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the Civil War, by the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not. It also became a long weekend increasingly devoted to shopping, family get-togethers, fireworks, trips to the beach, and national media events such as the Indianapolis 500 auto race, held since 1911 on Memorial Day.
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with living it up during what is the unofficial start of summer. Even in private mourning, there is a celebratory impulse to dwell on the life of the person more than the death. Still, the celebrants in such situations don’t blithely neglect to show proper respect, both for the decedent and the survivors.
Can the same be said of all the beachgoers and barbecuers and race car fans if asked about the significance of Memorial Day? Baby Boomers and our elders remember when Memorial Day was observed each year on May 30, regardless of on what day of the week that date fell. Since it was pigeonholed 46 years ago into the culmination of a three-day weekend, it has become easier each year to overlook the poignancy of Memorial Day.
Sacrificing commemoration for convenience may be a practical matter, but it also cannot help but devalue the sacrifices of people like my late dad, George, a fiercely proud World War II veteran whose closest friends until the day he died in 1998 were his 9th Infantry 47th Regiment compatriots. I grew up knowing these men and their families.
Each summer, our family vacation was spent attending their annual reunion, held in various cities, where the war stories flowed as fully as the beverages. They didn’t just have each other’s—and their country’s—backs in foxholes. They stuck with each other for more than a half-century after the war ended. The mutual loyalty and gratitude was palpable and inspiring. They never forgot what they did for each other.
And it’s not for us to forget what they and their like throughout American history have done for the rest of us. Please take a moment this Memorial Day weekend to teach your children why they don’t have to go to school Monday, and to remind yourself why you’re barbecuing instead of working.
While you’re at it, you might want to honor the origins of the holiday, first called Decoration Day, by visiting the burial site of a veteran, or of any loved one, and bestowing their spirit with beautiful, fragrant, life-affirming flowers, in full bloom.
Long live Memorial Day.
Bruce Apar is chief content officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency. Its Adventix division helps performing arts venues increase ticket sales. He also is an actor, a community volunteer and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce the Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.