Memorial Day rings a bit differently for veterans than it does for many civilians. For many of us, the mournful reflection of this holiday isn’t a general remembrance of the sacrifices men and women have made on our behalf over the years… for some of us, that mournful reflection comes attached to specific names: friends, loved ones, brothers or sisters in arms that we’ve lost.
As a result, Memorial Day often means something a bit different for those who serve or who have served. It becomes colored by our experiences, taking on elements of our lost compatriots until our memories of the fallen and our feelings about the holiday intertwine into something more than a day spent in front of the barbecue. In a way, Memorial Day molds itself into what we need it to be, to honor not just the entirety of the sacrifices made in the name of American freedom and sovereignty, but to honor the individuals whose names are irreparably linked to the word sacrifice in our minds.
And maybe that’s why I don’t see Memorial Day as sad and quiet affair. For many years, I’ve celebrated Memorial Day with friends and family, enjoying our time together and, occasionally taking a quiet moment to reflect on the four Marines I served with that are no longer with us. To me, it’s important that Memorial Day not be treated like a funeral, but rather as a celebration. The Marines I knew, the men I honor, wouldn’t want me to spend the day alone with my sorrow. They would want me to grow from the sense of loss I feel. They would want me to cherish my time with my wife and my daughter. They would want me to raise a glass and share a toast with my old squad.
They would want me to celebrate their lives, rather than mourn their deaths. They would want me to live the best ways that I could.
Memorial Day isn’t another funeral service to me, it’s a celebration of the ideals the United States strives for, and for the people that gave their lives to such an important cause. Memorial Day, like the 4th of July, is a chance for today’s Americans to connect to those who came before them. It’s a chance to remember not just who we lost, but why their sacrifices were made. From the first Marines in Tun Tavern before the formation of our country to the latest group of recruits, training amid an ongoing pandemic and striving still toward their goals of service, Memorial Day is a thread that binds us. Through remembrance, through sacrifice, we are bound to one another across the ages and battlefields.
Memorial Day isn’t about loss, it’s about sacrifice. At times, they look alike, and truth be told, in our hearts, they even feel alike… but the differences between them are significant. Loss is a storm cloud with no silver lining. Loss is a tragedy from which nothing good can be born. Loss is an emptiness inside our hearts. Loss pulls us toward the past–but sacrifice is different. Sacrifice is intrinsically tied to the future. Sacrifice is the burning pain of progress we feel when we stand up to oppression and stamp it out before it can take root in our home. Sacrifice is the gift of tomorrow, given to us by brave men and women who cherished the future so dearly that they gave up their own to ensure we would get ours.
Nothing good comes from loss, but the incredible nation we live in today, the freedoms we hold dear, the momentous things yet to come… it was all paid for in advance by those who sacrificed in our name.
On this Memorial Day, if sorrow is what you feel, then embrace it as a part of your journey. But if you can find it in yourself to look past the pain to see the incredible gifts we’ve been given through the sacrifice of heroes, don’t fault yourself for smiling.
Because we have a lot to be grateful for.