It’s Memorial Day, and to a lot of people that means a lot of different things. For some, it’s the official kick-off to summer, and for others, it’s a day off from work. For most of us though, Memorial Day is not really celebrated the way that it’s intended. At its core, Memorial Day is intended to honor those who served, and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Instead though, Memorial Day is full of sales and cookouts every year. You can blame corporate America for the lack of remembrance, or you can blame the apathetic nature of society, but that really does not make sense. While our country is not perfect, our support for the military and Veterans is still very high. Even Hollywood is making more films based on military service, and issues facing Veterans are often in the zeitgeist. We love our troops, and we love our Veterans, but we often forget those who have fallen. It was not until a trip to Washington DC last year that I realized why I was so prone to this too.
This blog is approaching six years old, and I think I’ve made it clear how much I care about our Vets. I’ve also spoken in the past about how I’m lucky to have so many friends, some very close, who are Veterans. I talk to Veterans on a daily basis, I get to meet them at community outreach events, and I even help Vets get their benefits. For me though, it wasn’t until I visited Arlington National Cemetery last year that I understood the gravity of what it means to die for your country.
We decided to visit Washington D.C. in June of last year. My best friend Jeremy and I were celebrating 10 years of friendships with a guy’s trip to our nation’s capital. I realize that most fellas don’t celebrate friendship anniversaries, but most fellas aren’t as cool as we are. We decided to just go for the weekend to visit the monuments and to see Jurassic World in IMAX. We didn’t really have a plan for the trip. Honestly, if we would have thought about this trip in more detail, we probably wouldn’t have traveled to a city built on a swamp in the middle of June. It was hot there. It was not a normal kind of hot, but rather a type of hot I had never experienced. I work in an office and I could stand to lose a lot of weight. Also, I come from a culture in which we drive most places. So the heat was enough to make me a little upset. (That came in to play later in story.)
On the first day of the trip we visited places the like The White House, The Lincoln Memorial, The Washington Monument and so on. I was way too excited to see Eisenhower Executive Office Building because I love the show Veep. On day two, we chose to spend just a few hours in DC before heading out to the Air and Space Museum in Chantilly. Before heading into the city, we decided to go to Arlington National Cemetery. Jeremy served in the National Guard, and he has always wanted to visit. I was there once when I was five, but at 32, the only thing I can remember from age 5 is liking Ninja Turtles and getting in trouble twice in kindergarten. So, another trip would suit me well too. After jumping on the Metro, and then walking for what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived to the cemetery for a lot more walking. But then, after walking away from the visitor’s center, and across the roadway where the lady who worked there yelled at everyone about our pace, I saw the endless rows of white tombstones. The sight of all of those white markers representing individuals who died in service stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t realize how far it reached before visiting.
We first made our way to witness the Changing of the Guard, and then back to the main part of the cemetery. Jeremy wanted to visit an attraction that was up several stairs, and I was not having it. (That’s when the heat was really getting to me.) So I let him go off by himself as I stayed behind. I am actually quite glad that did in hindsight. I had about 20 minutes just to stand there and look out at all of the graves. It was during this time that I realized why Memorial Day isn’t a holiday I fully embrace. It’s because I am lucky. Everyone I’ve ever known who served came home. I don’t have loved ones buried in that cemetery, and I got to visit it with someone I care about a lot who served. While I do have friends who were deployed in combat who have scars from their experience, they are still alive. Also, the Veterans I meet through work are all people who have already served. It was during this time of reflection that I started thinking about how many lives were impacted by the death of each of those men and women. It was a bit overwhelming. Memorial Day has a different meaning for individuals who have lost someone in service. Regardless if you lost a family member, or if you lost the friend who was serving next to you, Memorial Day means something different to you than it does to me. I don’t envy that for one moment.
I don’t want to undermine the sacrifice of individuals I’ve never met. Our world would look a lot different today if it weren’t for the bravery of people I’ll never know. I am so grateful for that. But, as I looked one last time at the row of white monuments, some with coins on top, I came to the conclusion that Memorial Day is a national holiday, but for many, it’s much more personal. To everyone who has lost someone in service, may your holiday be filled with great memories and time to reflect on the individuals you’ve lost. For everyone else, let’s do more than just post the same old tired memes on Facebook about how this isn’t a cookout holiday. Let’s really celebrate those who died protec
I love what I do. And it brings me a lot of joy to help people who have served.
Happy Memorial Day.