The Best Way to Celebrate Memorial Day (and every day)

My daughter's brother-in-law Vincent is a hard-working family man in his early 40's.  Last May, he was like all of us, with many plans for his future, specifically looking forward to a family get-together on Memorial Day and his son's high school graduation in June.

And then an auto accident and spinal cord injury sidetracked everything.  At first it was a question of whether Vince would even survive the crash.  Then it became clear that he would live, but his injuries would leave him partially paralyzed.  Months of difficult physical therapy have followed.

Today I saw an update from Vince on social media.  He mentioned his thanks for the love of his family, his gratitude for all the prayers and support from friends, and his appreciation for the dedication and skills of his medical team.  He praised God for his life.

He didn't mention that he's still in a wheelchair.


Our shifting priorities

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day back in 1868, when it was designated as a time to honor soldiers who died in the American Civil War.  Families would decorate the graves of their loved ones with flags and flowers, and some would even picnic in the cemetery.  After World War I, the day was expanded to include all fallen soldiers, and after World War II it became known as Memorial Day.

When I was a kid, my grandparents, their children (including my mom), and all of us grandchildren would visit our family's private cemetery in rural Mariposa County, in the California foothills not too far from Yosemite.  It was a time to mow, weed, and decorate everyone's graves with flowers (flags for the veterans).  Today, five generations are buried there, including my parents, grandparents, some of my aunts and uncles, and four of my cousins.  We were up for a visit last year.

Over time, Memorial Day has become the unofficial "beginning of summer."  Community swimming pools open for the season.  Patio furniture gets hosed down, and the grill is fired up.  On Memorial Day weekend in 2023, U.S. airports set a record for holiday travelers.

But Memorial Day is much more than hot dogs and the Indianapolis 500.

Veteran's groups are rightly worried that Americans associate the day with shopping.  After all, retailers blast sale ads in every possible format for mattresses, TVs, ride-on lawnmowers, and more.

But isn't that what we do with almost every holiday?  Presidents' Day is for shopping, Labor Day is for shopping, and Christmas is now the Holiday (Shopping) Season.  We're in danger of not taking anything seriously except shopping.

Giving thanks

Of course, I'm not against anyone having a celebration with family and friends.  Naturally, the kids want to play in the water and eat too much ice cream.

But I hope you'll take a minute to remember the soldiers who gave their lives (whichever country you live in) so that you could have the freedom to frolic today.  (Thank you Raymond Leon, Douglas Stratton, and Walter "Smitty" Smith.)

And I'm going to join Vince in setting aside any worries or disappointments and focusing on what I have to be thankful for.  It's a long list, and worth celebrating.


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