We live in a new normal of strange days and that is why the traditional elements to our daily life — such as Memorial Day — carry a little more meaning this year.
The day and the weekend where Memorial Day falls has evolved since it became an official federal holiday in 1971.
The weekend is synonymous with the beginning of summer, the end of school, barbecues and family gatherings.
Yet, the holiday isn’t really about trips to fish or barbecues. Originally known as Decoration Day, it began after the Civil War and is marked by Americans visiting cemeteries to honor fallen members of the nation’s armed forces.
The day isn’t a celebration so much as it is a way to highlight some of the key components — like duty, commitment and sacrifice — that make up our democracy.
The graves of our service members should serve as a reminder that there is, indeed, a price for freedom and most often that bill is paid by young Americans serving in faraway places.
This year, though, the holiday, I think, carries a bit more significance than at any other time in my memory.
We are firmly ensconced in a pandemic that has upturned all of our lives. The focus, justifiably, shifted as we all faced a new paradigm connected to the COVID-19 virus. And, not surprisingly, the one item — a virus — that should have avoided being politicized is now a bitter point of contention among many, including some — inexplicably — who don’t believe it even exists.
That is the condition of our country today. And it is troubling. That’s because we do not advertise ourselves across the globe as a disinterested, fractured society intent on tearing itself apart. We still, despite everything, represent to many places on the globe, a shining example of what is possible with democracy, how it can prosper and benefit millions.
Our system is, indeed, worthy of great sacrifice and toil.
That is what Memorial Day represents. Not division. Instead, the graves of the fallen, the final resting place of those who gave so much for our nation, symbolize we are not divided on our views of freedom. Memorial Day is a time to remember that despite all our flaws and missteps we still produce fine young men and women who willingly decide to commit to our greater good.
The hallowed ground where our honored fallen rest represents the best of our nation and also signifies that we are, indeed, a united people. That in times of crisis, we deliver our very best.
The sacrifices of our brave men and women are forever logged on the pantheon of brave deeds. Yet, their sacrifice, their commitment, also places a solemn responsibility on those of us who live and work and play in our great nation. That responsibility is a simple one — not to let them down and discard their commitment by division and discord.
We face another great test with the COVID-19 outbreak. Our institutions — and our patience — face nearly overwhelming stresses. This weekend, though, we should not focus on what separates us, but remember those who died in the service of our nation, who believed in what America stands for and were willing to put their lives on the line to ensure its continued success.
About the Author
Andrew Cutler is the editor of the East Oregonian, a member of the EO Media Group, which also owns The Observer. He also is an Army veteran.