Memorial Day. A day of barbecues, mattress sales, and the pool opening for the season. The unofficial beginning of summer, marked by knocking back a few beers, getting the day off of work, and putting white back into the wardrobe.
That’s what the advertisers would have us believe.
There are many who remember the true meaning of the day. These people post pictures of flags and loved ones and tell personal stories to help others understand the meaning. These stories often start with, “It’s not about the grilling…” or some similar phrase that first needs to catch the listener’s attention between sales ads.
When I was growing up, I don’t think the marketing was as fierce as it is now, I’m sorry to tell the bigwigs that if it was, I didn’t even notice their efforts. But I don’t think it was. I mean, how could it have been? We had four TV channels and an AM radio in the car. We were barely reachable so few years past the Stone Age. I was lucky that I hadn’t lost anyone close to me in battle. For me, Memorial Day was a day off of school in May, and that was all.
That changed for me when I went to Israel.
In Israel, Memorial Day isn’t celebrated, it’s commemorated. There are no sales or swimming pool openings. There is a siren and silence. For two minutes the entire country stands in silence out of respect for, and in memory of, those who died so that those who remained standing could live.
The thing is, in Israel, a young and small country, most people know someone who died or was injured in one of the many wars or terrorist attacks since the birth of the state. Even the kids. Even the young kids. If they don’t know someone personally, which is rare, then they are only two degrees of separation apart.
In America, well, many brave men and women have sacrificed their lives or their loved ones for our freedom over the years – and continue to do so. But in a country with a much larger population, and without a mandatory draft, it is a much smaller percentage. For many, this day just isn’t personal.
For my kindergartener, it isn’t personal.
This is a privilege for which I am profoundly grateful.
This year for Memorial Day, I am giving her the gift of innocence. My teenager knows what this day is all about, and someday my little one will, too. But for now, there is no talk of war, no talk of missing children, no talk of people not coming home or death or burial.
Someday she will know about all these things. Right now she knows to remember how wonderful and important freedom is, and that we always work for everyone to be free. Right now she knows she’s free to go paint pottery with her mama on Monday. This year her mama continues to use her privilege to pursue liberty and justice for all, while remembering those who fought for her child to have a safe and unadulterated day off of school in May.
To all those who served, to all those who lost loved ones: thank you. Thank you for your courage, for your dedication, for your sacrifice. And thank you for enabling me to give her this gift.