Although now it has become the unofficial start of summer, it wasn’t to mark the change of seasons that prompted placing Memorial Day on the calendar in late May. One of the principle reasons that Memorial Day takes place when it does is because flowers are blooming in most parts of the country right now. The day for remembering and honoring those who had given their lives in service to our country was originally called “Decoration Day,” as citizens were encourage to gather the “choicest flowers of springtime” to decorate the graves of those who have been killed in service to our country.
That the warm weather and glorious blooms of spring would be so closely juxtaposed with what is arguably the most solemn holiday on our civic calendar reveals the complexity of this holiday. At the same time we are memorializing the more than 1.2 million combat-related deaths of military personnel since the founding of our nation, we are also preparing for family and community celebrations of extraordinary joy and boisterous fun. Death and life are inextricably linked—and showcased—in the Memorial Day holiday. How do we best relate to this complex expression of tribute and appreciation, combined with the carefree nature of a long weekend off to enjoy the coming of summer?
French politician, Jean Jaures, did so quite succinctly when he wrote, “Take from the altars of the past the fire—not the ashes.” The ashes of what has been lost do nothing to quench the fire of our lives together as families, communities, and nation. We can best honor those who have given their lives to defending our freedoms by enjoying in personal and wonderful ways the very things that they were fighting for.
In healthcare we give service, and we do so with willingness and pride. Our hospitals will be open this long weekend and fully staffed with individuals whose holiday weekend includes long and busy shifts at work. In a community where a large number of our neighbors are (or were) members of the armed forces, Memorial Day is particularly poignant and held close in our hearts. Through parades and public events, through visits to gravesites and the flowers that we lay there, by recounting their stories to our loved ones, and by reflecting thoughtfully on their sacrifice, we honor those who have courageously defended our freedoms.
And we also honor them by pursuing and enjoying the benefits of our republic, by richly participating in the life of a free people, and by the time spent with family and friends during this very special and meaningful Memorial Day holiday.