Memorial Day

By Jack Canfora

I’ve always felt odd wishing people a Happy Memorial Day. After all, it’s a day honoring the war dead. Whether these unfortunate souls died fighting fascism, or perhaps decidedly less noble causes, the bottom line is all of them believed in something bigger than themselves, and they gave their lives for it. Don’t get me wrong, I love beaches, baseball and am fiercely pro-barbecue, but “Happy Memorial Day” sticks a bit in my throat. Fortunately, it comes up only once a year, so I have plenty of time to devote to my other neuroses. Perhaps the better salutation might be, “Have a Grateful Memorial Day.”

As we’re still reeling form a surreal past half decade or so, and a positively nightmarish las 15 months, I think it’s worth pointing out that the notion of devoting ourselves to a cause larger than ourselves is not only a good way of finding true purpose at a time when many of us are questioning the purpose of anything, it’s also as needed as ever. The fight for goodness and justice, as I need not remind anyone, is ongoing.

This website devotes much time, and rightly so, to the importance of love and forgiveness of the self and others. It’s altogether fitting that we do this. It’s vital that we continue the sometimes hard work of doing so. But part of recognizing goodness is seeing its opposite and naming it for what it is. If ever there were an appropriate time to recognize the need for vigilance of the forces that would bring darkness into our world, it’s this weekend. This is why, at least ostensibly, so many died (we can justifiably roll our eyes and shake our fists about whether this was/is pragmatically true, but I don’t think now’s the time) gave their “last full measure of devotion” to the cause of making the world a little better and freer.

But we’re not there yet. In fact, sometimes it feels further away than has in a while.

Just as the Sandy Hook massacre made clear that America prized its guns over the lives of babies (or, perhaps more correctly, that America’s politicians decided they’d rather stay in power than protect babies), those in power refusing to pursue the investigation of the traitorous January 6th attacks (all of whom proudly say, “Blue Lives Matter” while ignoring the murder and maiming of police officers by a pro-Trump mob) make clear they value their place at the trough more than they do American democracy. More than their actual lives.

Lincoln said our end, if it came, would not come from outside forces, but from ourselves. I’ve never been sadder or angrier to find once again that Lincoln was wise beyond measure.

For those of us in America, I wish you a Grateful Memorial Day, hoping you have a good time with hopefully reunited friends and family. And for all of us around the world, I hope we dedicate ourselves to doing what we can to continuing the Great Work of inching the world closer towards a more just and gentler world.

Please share your thoughts! Sorry, this post is starved of humor.

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17 thoughts on “Memorial Day

  1. I’m rather a existentialist in that I think people, and that by extension, societies, tend to get what they want. I’ve both surprised and irritated individuals on both the “right” and the “left” by pointing out that democracy isn’t about getting what she or he wants. Rather, it’s merely an agreement to peacefully accept the temporary victory of a majority. American history records many instances where that victory was by virtue of the absurdist weaponries of omission, slight-of-hand, propaganda, lies, dishonesties, outright bribery, and yes… sometimes even pockets of violence. So it’s not a perfect system by any means. But that the US has experienced the alternative in a bloody civil war at least tempers a departure from the larger, peaceful social agreement. So as an American”, it doesn’t take much looking around the world to elicit a deep appreciation that our soldiers fight only abroad… and for ALL of us.

  2. Being one of many transgender US veterans, I am one of the fortunate ones to have made it through the conflict I was in (Vietnam) in one piece, physically and mentally.
    It breaks my heart to see the Memorial Day weekend become nothing more than a day to remember nothing more than another day to BBQ.

  3. An oddity that social media has made fully apparent is the strangeness of quick non-responses to anything that is made up of an emotion that isn’t wholly positive. Do I “like” your post when you write about the serious or seriously sad? Do I love that picture on Instagram that is about devastation and loss? I think you’ve come across an excellent solution. I wish everyone gratitude as well. Thank you for the thoughts.

  4. I’ve always thought it was strange to celebrate our war dead by eating charred flesh, no matter how tasty. My little boy, raised on sweetness and light, grew up and joined the Marines. His recruiter used the old ‘be a part of something bigger than yourself’ line, as they do, and that really appealed to my boy’s strong sense of protection. He told me, and I have heard this a lot since then, that it’s a terrible thing when well-meaning folk thank him for his service on Memorial Day. Service people often have a sense of guilt at still being alive, as if they haven’t given their all, so they haven’t given enough. It’s fierce! So reflection on what these people have given their lives for is maybe better. Do thank veterans for their service if you want, but maybe keep that for Veterans’ Day. And thank you, Jack, for bringing this up this weekend. Peace for the people in war areas.

  5. Well said, Jack. And you’re right; the fight for goodness and fairness is ongoing. America (and some parts of the world) seem pretty screwed up right now. Let’s hope we can “unscrew” ourselves. Thanks for writing this.

  6. Almost the entirety of the world is a mess right now. It is a very dangerous place.

    There are lots of reasons to be happy on Memorial Day. There are also reasons to be sad. Holidays always skew to the happy. Human nature. Argue against human nature and you may think you come out ahead but in the long run you never win. It is what it is and I don’t worry about it.

    Memorial day isn’t really supposed to be a sad day anyhow. It is a day of thankfulness and gratitude to remember and honor those who sacrificed. The original intent was to encourage national unity. Southern women would decorate the graves of both Confederate and union soldiers with flowers.

    One of the earliest examples of a proto-Memorial Day was by a group of ex-slaves in 1865 in S. Carolina in a former POW camp for union soldiers. On May 30, 1868 it became an organized memorial for northern soldiers who fell in the civil war, known as Decoration Day. Similar celebrations happened in the South for their fallen soldiers. In the immediate aftermath of war, grief knows no ideology.

  7. Democracy should be about treating all people like people, not just the ones who think they are special.
    PS no one needs a gun, except maybe trained police.
    Your country is sadly trailing the rest of the civilised world on that sorry story.
    Memorial Day for all of the children lost to guns in the misguided name of gun rights.

  8. America has made it abuntantly clear that it reveres its guns over everything. And it only loves babies in the womb, once they are born, they are on their own. And to hell with their brood mares all the time. Men are Kings, and women are theirs to do with as they wish!

  9. I have always felt it is disrespectful to celebrate Memorial Day with the picnics and likes. I think it could be taken in consideration that there is a family somewhere missing a loved one and probably isn’t too thrill about the national remembrance of their loved one’s death being viewed as a time for barbecue and family and friends fun. I think this could be designated to another day.

  10. Unholypursuit, it used to be a day that we visited the cemeteries, laid flowers, and yes we still had those barbeques, but they were families, not huge things with hundreds of people. Also there weren’t the huge SALES that had nothing to do with our men and women dying on foreign lands.

  11. Sometimes humour is not what is needed, and I appreciate you embracing the need for acknowledging where change is needed.

    Kia kaha (stay strong) to you my friend, and to all those around the USA and the world who are experiencing struggle. I hope an attitude of gratitude can allow hope to blossom in hearts.

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