I don’t always know what to do with Memorial Day.
The kids aren’t in school yet and usually my husband has to work, so it’s not all that different than any other day for our family. We don’t have a personal connection to anyone who has died while serving in the military. And though my husband is a veteran, he downplays his active-duty service and cringes a little when someone wishes him a “Happy Memorial Day.” (A bit of contradiction there, maybe. Would we say Happy 9/11 Day? Happy D-Day? Happy Holocaust Remembrance Day? I don’t think so.)
So I’m torn. Do we celebrate? Do we mourn? Do we have a backyard barbecue with friends? Do we go about our business?
Yesterday, the kids and I went to a Memorial Day parade and service, both of which were in our neighborhood and required almost no effort on our part. It was a nice day. We needed something to do outside of the house. So, we went.
And the kids waved at fire trucks, picked up candy and let American flags flap in the wind. We listened to a high school band and a Highland bagpipe group and retired officers tell us why this day is important.
Later, we did the backyard cookout thing with friends who are missionaries to Spain and returning there soon, but we probably would have done that even if it hadn’t been Memorial Day.
I don’t know if we did right by the day, if we honored the dead or paid homage to the living.
But I know that I’m grateful for a day that reminds me to remember.
Because I am forgetful. In mind and spirit.
As Ann Voskamp writes in One Thousand Gifts, “I am beset by chronic soul amnesia.”
I forget history, who I am and where I’ve been. I forget the works of God in my life and I forget the events that brought our country to where it is today. I forget about people if they aren’t right in front of me. I forget prayer requests and pressing needs.
I forget. I forget.
So I need to be reminded to remember.
The other day I read these words in Deuteronomy, fitting words for a weekend to remember:
Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life, but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. (4:9)
The things which my eyes have seen …
On Memorial Day, I remember that freedom is costly, no matter what “side” you’re on. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers have given themselves in service to the cause of freedom over the years. And sometimes others pay the price. In innocent lives. In infrastructure destroyed. In chaotic reign afterwards. Freedom isn’t free for anyone.
And not everyone is free. We need people who have seen bondage and slavery and tyranny firsthand to remind us that freedom is not universal yet. That our way of life is not the way for everyone. That even those living in a “free country” can be enslaved to addictions, attitudes, behaviors, other people. That slavery did not end when the Civil War ended.
And ultimately freedom comes, not from the flag of a country, however “great” or “blessed” it might be, but through Jesus, who said he came to “proclaim release to the captives … to set free those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18)
I need to be reminded to remember.
I need a spiritual memorial day. A personal memorial day. To remember the workings of God in my life and the life of those who have invested in my life. To remember who I am and where I’ve been and how God has seen me through impossible challenges.
It is good to remember.
It is good to tell the story.
Not just on Memorial Day.
But every day.