Putting “We” In Memorial Day

“Soldier Antlers” by Lydia Komatsu

Memorial Day was always just another day off, a long weekend, an excuse to get my hopes up for what would be another

example of lousy Minnesota spring weather. I’m sure at some point, or at multiple points, adults explained to me the purpose of Memorial Day, but to a kid, I’m pretty sure that play time always trumps significance. He’ll understand some day, I’m sure they said as my black bowl of hair bounced away.

There’s this Bible verse, about being a child, doing childish things, then being a adult and acting like it. “Childish” always seemed pejorative but now I know that the nuance is innocence, and the things we do that are associated with the seasons and phases of our lives.

It actually took some time, to be honest. To realize that Veteran’s Day was actually my day now. It took two years of staring at a list of Americans still missing in Iraq to grasp the meaning of the POW/MIA flag. I had to lose friends in combat to understand the gravity of the word “Memorial.”

I used to get angry about people who wished me a “Happy Memorial Day,” or thanked me for my service on the last Monday in May. Wrong take, wrong day, I’d think. You don’t get it. But these days, that “you” has become increasingly problematic, the word a literal smoke screen from which to break contact and move to cover. “You” erects barriers, creates an “us,” and by extension, “them.” Veterans and Civilians, regarding each other from across a wide chasm.

I prefer “we.’

“We” acknowledges the ability to bridge any gap.

“We” recognizes and accepts difference.

“We” brings us together.

Which brings me back to Memorial Day, and seasons. I’m happy that for some, the day brings no sorrow because there has been no occasion to summon it. And I grieve for those for whom the day breaks darkly. But there is no singular truth to the meaning of the day beyond its stated origin, and if I have one wish about the day, it’s for connection. I hope civilians ask veterans if they’ve lost someone, and I hope veterans will respond and share their stories. In this way, Memorial Day will become another means of bridging the divide between us.

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