Wednesday, September 19, 2018 -
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Memorial Day

I AM excited . . . it is Memorial Day Weekend. My friends and I have been in touch a lot about this weekend. Should we travel to picturesque Lake Placid in New York? Drive down the glorious Pacific coast highway from San Francisco, with stops along Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur and Santa Barbara, to LA?

I want to see the grand looming Golden Gate Bridge wreathed in fog, feel the shrouded mists of Big Sur and smell the sea and lavender scented air of Santa Barbara.

I want to drive mile by mile along that famous highway that hugs the continent, passing by cliffs of towering beauty, with the translucent blue ocean foaming nearby.

Ah, Memorial Day Weekend. It is a nice way to kick off summer. A three-day reprieve that unofficially inaugurates the BBQ season and gives permission to fashionistas to begin donning white, a time to plant the season’s annuals and, last but not least, welcome the profusion and abundance and delight of the cherished farm fresh outdoor market!

Yes. This pretty much describes what Memorial Day is to most of us Americans. But, readers, it is *Memorial Day*!

I COULDN’T believe what my ears were hearing this week when I was standing in a public place and randomly overheard someone denigrating the day-weekend because he disagrees with American policy in Iraq, because he is against the war, and against Americans serving there!

What? What does one thing have to do with another? Memorial Day weekend is not a political day! Is is not divisive. It is a time when we pause and remember and honor those Americans who, literally, gave their blood, sweat and tears — for us. For us to lead the lives of freedom that it is our luxury and privilege to have in the United States.

I was quite surprised and upset by what I was hearing and, I must say, it is not the first time I have heard such sentiments. I honestly just don’t get it. If anything, you would think that Memorial Day, during a time of war, would be that much stronger of a day.

I can see the frustration in feeling a sense of futility, something like: If only we would not be over there for an empty cause that I disagree with, there would not be these empty fallen soldiers’ lives to remember.

But that is really not the point of the day. First of all, Memorial Day is a time to honor and acknowledge all Americans through our entire history who have died in service of America. To grieve for those who left for battle and didn’t come back home.

More than that, Memorial Day is a time when we acknowledge our human need to honor the dead. To honor those who have fought valiantly, to honor those who have paid the highest price — for you and me.

And what about all those who went to war and did return and are among us? How many are emotionally scarred for life? Permanently debilitated in ways which both do and do not meet the eye?

Is it so simple to be dismissive of something just because you disagree with it?

OF course, I am stating the obvious. Almost any American would feel the need to honor and appreciate those who have served us. I have no idea who this person who I overheard was. Probably some nut job or loose cannon, just mouthing off his opinion. I shouldn’t even respond to such absurdity and cruelty. But still.

I don’t know all the details of Memorial Day myself. I could do better. I have never met with veterans on this day. I have never visited a national cemetery at this time. And I have no idea what the proper flag etiquette of the day is. I should, though.

And I will openly admit, as a Jewish woman, as someone whose primary childhood was in Israel, “Yom Hazikaron,” Israeli Memorial Day, resonates very intimately and differently for me than America’s Memorial Day. I don’t know whether it is because the observance of the day itself has diminished in the US, or because, perhaps, I am less connected.

But one thing is clear: Sure, it is always nice to have a few days off to travel, or just relax, live the American dream that we are granted by the heroism of those we are remembering — but this weekend is not for that.

The spirit of this American day is sacred, meaningful. It is one day for us all to be united, to think of those who have served and died.

Over the years, I have read so many families’ stories. Each year the newspaper covers yet another death of an American soldier, a brother, sister, child, father or mother, who is returned to family on the soil of this land, in a coffin, draped in an American flag, showing those haunting pictures of their now perfectly-in-place, empty bedrooms.

Starting with Nella Sweet’s “Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping,” composed at the time of the Civil War, to “In Flanders Field” of WW I — and so many other testaments over the years and until this very day — the emotion and reality that unites all these poignant and heartrending words, in the final analysis, is one thing. That these Americans served and died for their country. Their sacrifice.

In the end, that is all that matters.



Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park


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