Monday, May 30th, 2016
Every year, Memorial Day comes to pass, and I never quite know what to say.
By the grace of God, all of my loved ones in the military have always come home.
But, I know people that cannot say the same.
It is unbearable to think of the pain that must accompany learning that your loved one is gone; knowing that your last goodbye was really the last.
Year after year, my various social media platforms are flooded with photos and status updates thanking and remembering those that lost their lives in the pursuit of freedom and peace. Year after year, I am wrecked by the bravery of our service members and the strength of their loved ones.
In my journeying on the internet, I came across a speech by Ronald Reagan. While he gave this speech on Veteran’s Day, there is one section that addresses those service members that made the ultimate sacrifice. It is that section that I will share.
“Sometime back I received in the name of our country the bodies of four Marines who had died while on active duty. I said then that there is a special sadness that accompanies the death of a serviceman, for we’re never quite good enough to them-not really; we can’t be, because what they gave us is beyond our powers to repay. And so, when a serviceman dies, it’s a tear in the fabric, a break in the whole, and all we can do is remember.
It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country, in defense of us, in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray haired. But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives — the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for our country, for us. And all we can do is remember.
There’s always someone who is remembering for us. No matter what time of year it is or what time of day, there are always people who come to this cemetery, leave a flag or a flower or a little rock on a headstone. And they stop and bow their heads and communicate what they wished to communicate. They say, “Hello, Johnny,” or “Hello, Bob. We still think of you. You’re still with us. We never got over you, and we pray for you still, and we’ll see you again. We’ll all meet again.” In a way, they represent us, these relatives and friends, and they speak for us as they walk among the headstones and remember. It’s not so hard to summon memory, but it’s hard to recapture meaning.” Ronald Reagan, http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/speakers/1985remarks.asp
So many of our military men and women give up more than their lives when they leave their last breath on the battlefield. They give up the lives they were building before they left and the lives they would continue after they came back.
Is there a right way to remember? Is there the perfect thing to say to the spouse or child of a fallen warrior? Is there a proper way to feel as a bystander; as someone who hasn’t served and doesn’t really know?
Sometimes anger seems appropriate; “How many more of our country’s sons and daughters must be sacrificed on the altar of war and conflict?”
Sometimes overt patriotism seems like the best response; “They died defending the greatest country in the world. They made the ultimate sacrifice so we could all be free. American heroes, all of them!”
Perhaps gratitude or melancholy or anguish.
Maybe acknowledgement that, just like all death, it is okay to not really know what to say or how to act.
Definitely grace as we stumble over the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. Grace as we don’t know what to say. Grace as we inevitably say the wrong thing or the weird thing.
There is really no way for anybody to “make up for” the loss of a loved one. There is no way for most of us to understand what it is to embark on a mission or deployment and be willing to give our absolute all. It is difficult to comprehend the bravery or courage or patriotism it takes to sign up to do a job that might ask for one’s life in exchange.
Memorial Day seems particularly hard, at least for me, because all we can do is remember. All we can do is hurt with those that hurt. All we can do is pray for less conflict.
And it just doesn’t seem like enough.