Friday, May 23, 2014

Thoughts on “Decoration Day”

Given the pace at which we live our life these days, it’s pretty easy to let the distinctions between the different holidays become blurred.  We often find ourselves seeing holidays as just a break from time in the office, an extra-long weekend to spend on our favorite pastimes, an opportunity to focus on things other than work, or – less exciting, perhaps – to make progress on projects. 
If there is one holiday that we should not let that happen to, it is Memorial Day.  It’s a day to remember the sacrifices that others have made for us.  Ultimate sacrifices, to put a finer point on it.  As is often said of those who have served, “all gave some, some gave all”.  In honor of those who have paid that price, this blog will depart from its normal retirement plan focus and look at what this holiday means. 

There are probably few who are younger than the baby boom generation that will recognize the term “decoration day,” and even those of this generation that do recognize it, likely does so only because their parents or grandparents may have called it by that now-archaic name.  Memorial Day was, in fact, first known as Decoration Day when it was recognized as a national holiday following the American Civil War.  It was a day, traditionally the last Monday in May, when family members and others put flowers on the graves of soldiers, both Union and Confederate, who died in what many consider the event that most defined us as a people and a nation.  In other words, they "decorated" the graves in memory and recognition.  Since those early days the title changed and Memorial Day has officially become a day to honor and remember all who have made that ultimate sacrifice while in military service. 
Many Americans have no idea or have forgotten how close our country came to being two countries, rather than one, a century and a half ago.  There is no way to properly envision or comprehend what two divided Americas might not have accomplished in shaping the world as it now exists.  In particular, helping as we did to save our world from dark forces that rejected individual freedoms and sought political and military domination.  We are by no means a perfect nation.  We have made our mistakes and have our flaws.   But in our balance of imperfection and good intentions, our commitment to self-determination and individual liberties stands out and we can be proud of most of what we have come to stand for to the rest of the world.

The sacrifices a century and a half ago that affirmed us as a united people have been demonstrated more than once, in world wars and in other conflicts, but also in peaceful things, made possible by the common purpose that was a byproduct of our unity.  Creating an international forum in which nations can attempt to resolve their differences, striving and working for equal opportunity and personal dignity for our citizens, exploring the universe beyond the confines of our own sphere, and many other accomplishments, are a legacy of sacrifices both before and since the first Decoration Day. 
As a nation and a people we are not inclined to dwell on gloom and loss, the emotions that must have accompanied the first Decoration Day.   We’re inclined to look toward the future through the lenses of optimism and confidence.  Maybe that is why Memorial Day as we celebrate it in our era is a time for smiles and laughter, appreciating our families and friends, as well as for remembering the sacrifice and loss of those who have served and insured our freedom.

And after this welcome holiday is over, a time to get back to working toward a worthy and secure retirement for us all.