A friend’s Memorial Day Dilemma.
Not too long ago, I was talking with a friend of mine about the upcoming Memorial Day. He didn’t serve in the military, but was a true patriot and supporter of the military. He told me that his family always had a big time on Memorial Day: BBQ, Family visits from out of town, playing on the water. You know, the things most of us love to do on this day.
He said, however, he always felt a little conflicted on this day. He felt like he shouldn’t be having fun but rather remembering the fallen in a more solemn way.
As I sit in Afghanistan and write this, I can say I often have similar feelings – and not just on Memorial Day. My recent retirement from the Army has amplified this feeling. Just as soon as I hit a high point or start to really enjoy my new life away from the Army, pangs of guilt stick me in the gut. Who the hell am I to feel this way when so many of my buddies are not here to even have a shot at these things?
My buddies, who fell, are not here to sit in the sun. To hold their Children. To hold their wife’s hand. To chase that new job. Who the hell am I to do these things when they can’t?
Then, as if on cue, I have a startling realization that any of my buddies who have fallen, would kick me square in the pants if I talked like that in front of them!
Those things are precisely what they stood for.
The buddies I knew, who fell, were warriors who loved having a good time. They adored their families and cherished their friends. They relished what they did for a living, but they didn’t let it define them. Every friend of mine, who fell, had big dreams and little moments they cherished.
Yes, they were patriots. These dudes were rock-hard Spartans who didn’t blink when the call came. Many of them deployed into combat multiple times, fully knowing the risks.
Like most warriors, the friends I knew, who fell, were Patriots – but they fought for their buddies, for their teammates. Many died for them.
But make no mistake, the friends I had, who fell, also cherished the Bar-B-Que’s, the parties, the time on the water, the Christmas Cards and gift packages from kids and churches they didn’t even know when deployed. They loved hunting, bowling, watching their kids little league…some even coached them. They adored the quiet time with the one they loved.
They relished the sweet, rapid breathing and the soft touch of their child’s cheek when they kissed them good night as they slept –knowing tomorrow they would leave for the dark, lonely lands.
For the friends I knew who fell, these were the very things that reminded them of who they were – why they were there in those dark, lonely places – they were the things that gave them purpose – that gave them hope for a better tomorrow.
So yes, close your eyes on this day. REFLECT. Fly that flag. Talk to your kids about civic duty.
But don’t do those things as a matter of mere obligation. Do them in your own way as part of your life and who you are.
And then – GO HAVE SOME FUN!
Fire up that Bar-B-Que, Crank up the music. Ice the beer down. Spin your little girl around as you dance on the lawn. Kiss your wife like it was for the first time. Thank your folks for raising you up. Tell your brother you love him. Look up at that big sky, breath deep, and soak it in.
This is America Baby! Land of the Free – Home of the Brave. Where we celebrate authenticity, courage, and FREEDOM as hard-fought gifts that enable us to live those precious moments.
And if you can – for some it’s too soon – bring our fallen friends and family with you in your hearts. Don’t leave them at some somber memorial.
From World War II to Afghanistan, we all likely have someone close to us who served and fell. If you don’t, I bet someone near you does.
Remember them in the company of friends and family. Laugh and cry at their great, funny, and embarrassing moments while creating new ones of your own. It doesn’t have to be one or the other – somber memory or guilt-laced fun.
For my friends who fell, I believe they’d much rather be remembered in the high points of my life than any other time.
Finally, to my friends who are serving or who did serve, Thank you. I hope your day is special.
But, do me a favor. When you find yourself wondering why you’re still here, and your buddies aren’t. Take comfort in the fact that there is a reason for it, even if you don’t know what it is.
There is still work to be done. And it is yours to do. I have to tell myself that all the time. I have to remember that my buddies are looking down on me and expecting me to do those things still undone. I owe them that.
For me, completing my unfinished work on this earth is my greatest tribute to them. It is the one thing I can always take comfort in and share with them for eternity.
To carry them with me in my heart, on that journey of unfinished work (and play), even to the Bar-B-Ques and picnics, is the greatest honor of all – and for me, that is what Memorial Day, and every day is really all about.
De Oppresso Liber,