Have you wished someone a 'Happy' Memorial Day yet?
Today is Memorial Day in America, a day that we have set aside to remember and to honor those who gave their lives for our freedoms. For many, this weekend means an extra day off work, time with family, time at the pool, and a good grill-out. We have made it a weekend of celebrating, and so it would seem only natural to roll 'happy' off the tongue on this day. Happy Memorial Day.
But Memorial Day is a solemn occasion, and I think we forget that. In fact, I sometimes wonder if we are a people who know how to do 'solemn' at all any more. Take any moment of silence that we've had in the past...fifteen years. Look around the room, and you will see countless individuals who believe that a moment of solemnity is the perfect time to check their phones. They lower their heads and raise their hands out of their pockets and there it is, that infernal device. Because we cannot waste a single moment on solemnity. Not when there's so much of the world at our fingertips.
I have often lamented that we are a people who can no longer stop, even for a few seconds, for God (the same thing that happens during a moment of silence also happens during times of prayer in church), but the truth is that we can't even stop, even for a few seconds, for each other. And this is demonstrated not just in moments of silence but in, let's say, a funeral procession, which too many today see only as a traffic inconvenience. We watch the hearse carrying the body of the deceased and this long procession of teary-eyed loved ones following, and we think, Oh man. I just got stopped by a funeral. Just my luck!
No, my friend. No. When you are stopped by a funeral, it is not you who is having the hard day.
For some reason, we're afraid of the solemn. We are. We just don't know what to do with it. For years, for generations, we paused. We stopped in reflection. We removed our hats. We did all of the things that we were taught we were supposed to do, and I'll be honest with you - they are such small things that they almost feel like nothing at all. I think many of us have asked, during moments of silence or moments of prayer, whether what we are doing is 'enough.' Whether it's anything at all. We hate feeling futile in heavy moments. And so, I think, we've decided to simply not engage them at all, lest we feel our own smallness. Lest we come face-to-face with the realization that the only thing we have to do here, the only thing we can do here, is to grieve.
And perhaps, to remember.
But this brings us to another hard reality for us on this Memorial Day - so many do not know what this day means. We are told to remember. We hear little whispers and sound bytes that it has to do with the military. So we see a service member, and we thank them for their service, and we shout out, Happy Memorial Day! We love you. But today is not a day for loving them.
We are so disconnected from our solemnity that we don't bother to realize that today is not a day for remembering anyone and everyone who has ever served. Today is not a day for celebrating our friends who have put on a uniform. Today is not 'Military Appreciation Day.' That's in November.
Today is for those who died. Today is for those who went into battle and never came out. Today is for those who believed so much in our right to freely enjoy pools and backyards and burgers with family that they put it all on the line and lost it. For us. Today is for those who had families and backyards and a taste for burgers who traded it all for tears and never got to have another long weekend together.
Today is for remembering those we don't see or haven't seen, that the world hasn't seen in a long time. Today is for the little guy who gave himself to a great big thing.
And I think that we're just not good at this any more. We don't pay attention to what we're doing, even when we're doing it. We think that we have a general idea of something, so we don't bother getting the details...or even getting them right. Memorial Day. Gotcha. Military, flags, family, remember. Oh, happy Memorial Day!
No, my friend. No. Today is not a 'happy' day. Today is a day for solemnity.
Today is a day for us to start paying attention again. Today is a day for us to engage with our world and really tune it. Today is a day to declare that we want to know - we want to know what it is that we're memorializing. We want to remember what it is that we're remembering. Today is a day for hearing stories...and for honoring them. For taking our hats off and standing still for a moment and engaging, truly engaging, a moment - a moment - of silence. To hear all the words, all the songs, all the whispers, all the love of those who aren't here any more to speak them.
Today is not just a day to remember; it's a day to remember, very specifically, the fallen. The dead.
Happy? Memorial Day?
No. Today, we grieve.