For years, I went out of my way to thank veterans on Memorial Day. "Thank you for your service," I'd say with genuine gratitude.
Some would nod and thank me. Others would gently smile and say nothing. I noticed faraway looks in the eyes of others. Until finally, someone close to me pointed out that he didn't want to be thanked on Memorial Day.
I was confused.
"Memorial Day isn't about veterans who are still with us. It's about the ones who died," he explained. "Save your thanks for Veteran's Day."
I felt foolish. Of course. While the holiday has become little more than summer kickoffs, three-day weekends, and barbecues to many, the real reason for Memorial Day has been pushed aside. It's intended to be a day to remember.
Smiling children line the streets and wave flags as parades pass by. But I can't help wondering how many are being taught the reason for the day. Unlike the celebration of Independence Day, which truly is a celebration, Memorial Day should reflect a somber tone of sorts. Surely it does for surviving veterans who lost comrades during any of the wars and conflicts. They remember.
And we should, too.
Just glimpse at the people in Arlington Cemetery on this last Monday of the month. Memories surface and tears are shed. There is no laughter, no waving of flags, no celebration. There is loss. Survivor's guilt. Longing. Respect.
Memorial Day reflects the price we paid as a country. The price of human lives. It is sobering. Should we pause in silent reflection and remember? Should we spend time in prayer, thanking God for those who paid the ultimate price? Should we offer our support to surviving family members who cling only to a folded flag? I think we should.
But should we thank a living veteran? I think not. I, for one, do not want to trigger traumatic memories or survivor's guilt and I'm sorry for not knowing any better in times past.
What we do on Memorial Day is up to each of us. Picnics, parades, gatherings of family and friends... they're all fine. Just skip the thanks for now and silently appreciate the ones who made it home.