memorial day

Land of the Free, Home of the Weird

Image via CD_Photography/shutterstock.com

Image via CD_Photography/shutterstock.com

The Wild West as we imagine it is a bit of a sham, of course — constructed in part by people living there even at the time, who would stage train robberies and trick out saloons to thrill adventure-seeking, money-dropping East Coasters.

It’s a cartoonized myth, the kind perfectly suited to the sort of theme park that America today leads the world in delivering. This could cause even greater skepticism about our present surroundings — but really, is there great romantic difference between a bygone West of restaurants and wagon paraphernalia and a tribute West of all that plus a water park? We agree that this is the story we’re telling and we go with it; to delight ourselves and each other, to give ourselves an origin story, a reason for what it’s all for.

I should mention it is Memorial Day weekend. National holidays share a similarly constructed myth in our collective nostalgia, I think, and Memorial Day has come further than most from its original purpose. 

The Questions We Don't Ask On Memorial Day

Monday was Memorial Day, full of family trips and events, lots of picnics and barbecues with friends and neighbors, and a national day off from school and work. For us it was the Northwest Little League All Star game here at Friendship Field in Washington D.C., a family tradition for many years. My wife Joy, the Commissioner, organized the game day, including a wonderful picnic on a glorious baseball day for players, parents, relatives, and many fans–with 300 hotdogs!

The Questions We Don’t Ask on Memorial Day

Flags placed at gravestones on Memorial Day, Sheila Fitzgerald /Shutterstock.com

Flags placed at gravestones on Memorial Day, Sheila Fitzgerald / Shutterstock.com

Monday was Memorial Day, full of family trips and events, lots of picnics and barbecues with friends and neighbors, and a national day off from school and work. For us it was the Northwest Little League All Star game here at Friendship Field in Washington D.C., a family tradition for many years. My wife Joy, the Commissioner, organized the game day, including a wonderful picnic on a glorious baseball day for players, parents, relatives, and many fans – with 300 hotdogs!

It was also a day to remember all the people who have died in America’s wars. For the families of those war victims and so many of their fellow veterans it was a day of remembering and mourning. In the quiet moments of listening to the national anthem while looking at the American flag, our little baseball crowd with hats off might have been thinking about the meaning of the national holiday. But right afterward it was “Play Ball.”

On Memorial Days I always end up listening to the many stories from the families who lost their most beloved ones and from the veterans whose eyes still tear up when they recall their dearest buddies lost on battlefields far away.

Stand by Me: Memorial Day and the Healing of Souls

Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Reflecting on Memorial Day and Jesus' promise to be with us. Courtesy Odyssey Networks

If you have to reassure people that you’re not abandoning them, it may be because they feel you slipping away. In John 14, Jesus is responding to the anxiety of those he loves. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he says, but it is not clear how he will keep that promise. In a few hours, his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death will all have been accomplished. It will feel as if he has, in fact, abandoned them or been torn away from them.  

Jesus loses his life, and he is not the only one to suffer loss. Those he leaves behind lose him, and without him, they lose whatever security they might have felt in the world. After his death, they take refuge by hiding. They are isolated from each other and afraid of everything on the other side of locked doors. 

We rarely think of what happened to Jesus as an experience of combat, but the story of his arrest includes soldiers, weapons, and at least momentary hand-to-hand combat as Peter draws a sword to slice off the ear of one of those sent to arrest Jesus. Twenty-four hours later, those who could not watch with Jesus in the garden or save him from the enemy will themselves be lost without him. 

Memorial Day: From Suffering to Hope

Suffering, with light at the end of the tunnel, hikrcn/ Shutterstock.com

Suffering, with light at the end of the tunnel, hikrcn/ Shutterstock.com

Memorial Day is a day to remember. A solemn holiday, it reminds us of the men and women who have died serving our country. Wreath-laying ceremonies and concerts fill the weekend, along with the placing of 250,000 American flags on the graves of Arlington National Cemetery. 

Decorating graves is the oldest of Memorial Day traditions. In fact, the holiday was originally called Decoration Day and honored the soldiers who died during the Civil War. Flowers were placed on graves every year on May 30, and after World War I the holiday expanded to include soldiers who died in any war. In 1971, it was moved to the last Monday in May to create a three-day Memorial Day Weekend.

And that, writes Everett Salyer of HEAVEmedia, “is when all hell broke loose.” For many Americans, the holiday became a celebratory weekend filled with grilling meat, drinking beer, splashing in pools, and watching stock car races. 

Mixed Memories of Memorial Day

National Cemetary, Dorti / Shutterstock.com

National Cemetary, Dorti / Shutterstock.com

Last week was Memorial Day, but if you are like me your memories of the day are fraught with colorful childhood parades but also with horrors filled with sadness. It makes one wish for the power to short-circuit war.

The earliest recollection for me of a grieving “Gold Star” family is the gathering around the death of my oldest cousin Bob in World War II. Memorial Day dinner with my 93-year-old mother clarified some of the difference between family lore and a 4-year old’s memory. As though it was yesterday I see Bob’s parents and brother gathering with extended family, before the funeral, on the lawn of my grandparents’ home in Rock Rapids, Iowa.  I have no recollection of a memorial service or war cemetery graveside ceremony… but I do recall the tears and unspeakable grief of elders consoling one another about something awful. 

Bob had miraculously survived the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. As the war was nearing its end in the spring of 1945 he was catching some “R and R,” asleep upstairs in a two-story house near the Belgian front. One of his friends was cleaning a M16 on the floor below.  The gun went off killing Bob instantly as he slept.  He became one of the many (20-30 percent it is estimated) war casualties killed by “friendly fire,” or “accidents.”  

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