Thoughts On Memorial Day, 2018
I have been thinking about Memorial Day beyond the surface rhetoric, remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice. What did they die for? What would they have expected of us, for whom they made that ultimate sacrifice?
Did they have expectations? I think they did, although different expectations at different times in our history.
What would a union soldier have wanted as he lay bleeding out on the field at Gettysburg? After the re-unification of the United States and the Confederate States and the abolishment of enslavement, would he have wanted those freed persons to have been included in the social, political, and economic workings of the new United States? Maybe not.
What about the soldier laying against the dirt wall of his trench in 1918, which would now become his deathbed? Would his dying expectations for the American citizens back home have included a place for all of them to participate in the electoral franchise? Even women? Possibly.
My father was a veteran of the second world war, having fought in an artillery unit in Europe. He rarely talked about his experience, but he flew the flag religiously every Memorial Day. I believe he knew guys that hadn’t returned. And on their behalf, he had expectations.
He had expectations about what we should do, as United States citizens, how we should understand our freedoms that others had sacrificed for. That we needed to practice those freedoms. He always acted consistently with those beliefs.
He thought political, social and economic freedom should be regarded as rare commodities, to be valued in the extreme. They must never be taken for granted. He saw that first hand. Voting was important, but knowing who one was voting for, what they stood for, what they would likely do, for or against those freedoms, is more important. Keeping the ideal of true freedom, for everyone, no exceptions, was his expectation.
In considering the solemnity of Memorial Day from this perspective, I am humbled by what I can do to meet the expectations of those who have fallen. The task is to take from my imagined expectations of the countless men and women who have not only died, but have also served and sacrificed in untold ways, over hundreds of years, and create an expectation of myself. One that meets and furthers the vision of true freedom, extending the possibilities of our nation, now and into the future.
I see that as the best way to honor all of those souls, recognizing that in our single family of Americans, we have the capacity to come together, not just on days like this, but every day, and agree to respect each other, as we find our way to making a country of true freedoms, based on our commonalities and our baseline expectations for ourselves, our families, our friends and everyone else.