Happy Memorial Day

Memorial Day is an interesting holiday. It’s a long weekend when most people break out their shorts and sunscreen in order to greet the summer with a cookout, picnic, or visit to the beach. It’s the start of summer, especially for those of us who live in areas where school gets out before Memorial Day, making Memorial Day the official start of summer vacation.

I love a good cookout, breaking out the grill and using good food as an excuse to hang out with friends and family. It’s a national tradition here in the States.

But as much fun as it is, that’s not what Memorial Day is about.

Memorial Day is about remembering those we have lost in the line of service, those we have lost who have fought for this country, those who have died to protect us. Yet strangely, I find this holiday is often overlooked and passed over and weirdly confused with Veteran’s Day.

People get super serious on Veteran’s Day and often talk about sacrifice. But while our veterans often sacrifice a lot, they don’t sacrifice their lives. That’s part of the definition of being a veteran. It means you survived.

Memorial Day on the other hand is about the men and women who didn’t, the ones who never escaped the battlefield.

Despite having grown up in a military family, the real meaning of Memorial Day wasn’t something I ever really thought about. My parents had lost friends in the service, but never anyone I could remember. Never anyone that I knew.

That all changed when a high school classmate of mine was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

Now every Memorial Day I remember a boy with an easy smile, a quick wit, and a bright intelligence who is now just a memory and a white gravestone in Arlington Cemetery. And I pray that none of my friends who are currently in the military will be joining him there any time soon.

I would rather celebrate my friends on Veteran’s Day than Memorial Day.

The purpose of this post is not to make you feel guilty or bad for your cookouts. Please don’t. I will certainly be enjoying a burger grilled to perfection at a friend’s house today. No, the point of this post is to remind you that not everyone is celebrating today.

For some people today is a reminder of the people they have lost, people who once filled and centered their lives but are now only represented by a gravestone and a folded up flag.

So today when you go out, be sensitive, be kind. Smile at the person at the grocery store as you run in to buy a quick bag of chips before hitting the cookout. You don’t know who they might have lost, who they might be remembering today.

Today I remember Mike McGahan. Who do you remember?

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