Memorial Day memes have filled the internet lately. Most of them ask people to think of the day as more than just the unofficial start of summer or an extra day off. While I’m not so big on the “shaming” memes, they did make me think. I am guilty of letting these days pass by with a quick thanks to the government for another day without a 6 AM alarm.
Since the tradition of Memorial Day started in the United States in the 1800’s, war has become a more distant and removed event for the average family. It’s become wrapped up in politics and personal opinion. It’s become a brief blurb on the news. I think this tension of emotion might be part of the reason we gloss over the holiday. Ironically, a meme helped me with my conflict and how to approach the day with my kids.
The meme told a story about former slaves who reburied over 200 Union soldiers left in a mass grave at a Confederate prison camp. They worked for two weeks then dedicated the area with a large crowd including many children who were now students. I was pleased to discover with a little research that, although not necessarily the beginning of Memorial Day, this event actually happened. No matter how you feel about war and politics, the actions of these freed people speaks of honor, respect, and gratitude toward those soldiers who had suffered and died for them. They said thanks in a tangible way, possibly the only way they could.
This story about the Union soldiers brought the heart of the matter back into focus for me because, in the end, those are the values I want my children to take away from these remembrances: honor, respect, and gratitude. I want them to find ways to say thanks and respect sacrifices made on their behalf. Despite my thoughts on war and politics, the Memorial Day asks us to do that, to honor men and women who stood behind their convictions, showed bravery, and supported their country. That’s something my kids can look up to.
So, go ahead and enjoy that barbeque. Feel free to treat yourself to a happy dance for summer. But while you’re at it, I encourage you to take a moment to honor that memory today, whether literally at a graveside or metaphorically through your words. Use a bit of your free day to teach. Tell your kids this story about the freed slaves’ gratitude or maybe a story from your own family’s history. Let them participate in the deeper meaning.