It’s more than just a day to gather for a picnic with family and friends. It’s more than just the beginning of summer. It’s more than a day off from work.
Lots of folks think Memorial Day is a day to honor all veterans. Nope…that’s Veteran’s Day, observed in November. This federal holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, is for honoring and memorializing military personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country…they died while serving our country.
Don’t get me wrong. there is nothing wrong with gathering with friends and family on Memorial Day weekend. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the beginning of summer. But the actual purpose of this particular holiday is to remember and memorialize those made the ultimate sacrifice to make freedom possible and keep it possible in this country.
When I was growing up, we gathered with family and friends on Memorial Day, often at my grandparents’ house, but my parents always made sure we, at the very least, talked about the meaning of the holiday. My grandfather served in World War II, but we were fortunate he came home safe and sound, as did his brother. I can’t remember hearing of any family members who lost their lives in the line of duty, but my parents always made us aware that our freedom “wasn’t free.” People lost their lives so we could be free.
I think, this year, with the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned a little something extra about freedom. It has forced me to spend a lot of time thinking about freedom and how fortunate we are to live in a country where we have freedom. Sure, it has been limited in the last couple of months, but we know this is temporary. Can you imagine what it would be like if these limitations on our freedom were permanent? If we risked arrest for leaving our homes without permission? Or if we risked living out our lives in a work camp for speaking out against our government? I don’t claim to understand all the other cultures and governments of the world, but I know that in this country, if we aren’t happy with the government, we can, at the very least, vocalize our unhappiness. Remember, people in North Korea can’t do that. If they speak out against the government, they can be killed or sent to work camps.
Several years ago, I read a book called Escape from Camp 14, by Blaine Harden, based on the life and journey of a man named Shin Dong-hyuk, the only former prisoner known to have escaped from an internment camp in North Korea. It was eye-opening and disturbing. In fact, I’m going to read it again, just to revisit the details. It truly made me thankful that I live in the United States, but I think it will be especially meaningful now. If you’d like to read it, you can order from Amazon here.
While Memorial Day is always meaningful to me, this year, it will have more meaning. I will sit down with my family over breakfast Monday and talk about the meaning of the holiday. Weather permitting, my husband and I will take a walk through a cemetery near our home. Unfortunately, we don’t have any small flags to place on the graves of those who lost their lives in the line of duty this year, but we will remember those who lost their lives while fighting for our country’s (and the world’s) freedom.
Happy Memorial Day to you and your family.