I realize that Memorial Day has come and gone for 2010, but that day – and since – have brought a lot of my feelings about the holiday to the surface, and I’ve needed a bit of time to sort them out.  In many ways, this holiday is very straight forward – honoring our fallen servicemen and women.  Yet – in my opinion, it has become – at least in my mind – a bit complex to know how to “celebrate” this.  It almost requires that one more carefully define the word “celebrate” in order to begin.

When I was a child, I am not sure that my family made sure that I was abundantly clear as to the meaning of the day.  I’m sure they mentioned the purpose, but clearly, it didn’t sink in to the extent that it should.  Of course it meant a day off from school, and that was paramount – and joyous – for any school age student.  In many ways, that took precedence in my mind – far and above the reason we were getting that day off.

Our town had a nice sized Memorial Day parade – and it was our custom to go.  Later, as I began playing in the high school band, I became a part of that parade.  It then became about learning the music – meeting the band up at the high school to get ready – then marching.  It was in one of those parades that I lost the end of my flute.  Flutes are put away in their cases in three parts, and the last part was what fell off as I was marching.    My mom has a picture of me in a panic as I was noticing this for the first time.  Luckily – someone found it and it was returned to me – and it wasn’t broken, so no harm done.  For years, Memorial Day brought back *that* memory!

You would think that the parade would have brought on home the meaning of the day – with cars full of veterans, but it didn’t.  Clearly, I was self absorbed and couldn’t see past my own small role – and did not see the larger picture of why we were doing this in the first place.

Then that night the family gathered at my Aunt Betty and Uncle Ed’s for a picnic.  They had a farm and served lots of fresh veggies and fruits – including strawberries, which had just ripened.  I’m sure – knowing our family – there was a prayer prior to eating.  I’m also sure that the reason for the holiday was mentioned in that prayer.  But – I continued to remain oblivious.

I guess the reason for the holiday was too remote for me.  At that time, we were not in any wars.  World War II and the Korean War were over and the Vietnam war had barely started, which was not even considered a “war”.  So – to this very naive child, war was “in the past” – over and done with.  I didn’t try to “connect” with the deaths from previous wars because – again — I was self absorbed.  Death had not invaded my consciousness as no one I knew had died of anything!  The reality is that I needed a good old fashioned attitude adjustment, and that did not happen.

In short – I saw Memorial Day as a day for a fun parade – – and a picnic with fresh strawberries at my aunt and uncle’s.

Fast forward to the 1970’s as a newly married woman.  Ray had served in Vietnam from 1969-70.  Yes – he was drafted and served in that “little conflict”, which was never legally defined as a “war”, but probably should have been considering the lives lost.  He saw and experienced “death” that I had not comprehended in my youth.  And – it affected him greatly.

Memorial Day confused me back in those days.  Ray refused to join any festivities where – God forbid – there might be “fun”.  He lay around and was “morose”.  Yet – he never could explain to me what was going on and why he always was in such a bad mood during that day.  To confuse things further, Memorial Day is considered to be – in the Hamptons – the beginning of the “summer season”.  Traffic increases and Ray’s business would get wildly busy – with lots of ornery people demanding this or that – or – that’s how Ray saw it.  So – I assumed that Ray’s bad mood was about the business issue, and didn’t see his sadness over deaths in Vietnam.  In all fairness, in the beginning of all of this, Ray was unable to verbalize this to me because it was out of his consciousness, too  All I know is that I felt “cheated out of a holiday”.  I didn’t see the reasons behind what was going on.

And – – this brings us to today.  Ray has had his consciousness raised from his time at the Long Island Vet Center – learning about how the war affected him, and I now know and understand what was happening to him on so many Memorial Days.  I have finally had this attitude adjustment I needed early on.  Ray has also worked through some of his issues, and Memorial Day isn’t quite as “morose”.  Yet – there is meaning in all we do on that day.  We attend the Memorial Day services in the park, and Ray marches with the other vets.  However, in the afternoon, we don’t lie around like in years past.

I asked Ray this year if he felt there was anything wrong with gathering with family and having a picnic, or going to a cocktail party, which we also did the day before Memorial Day.  His response?  It’s fine and it’s good – and we do it BECAUSE WE CAN.  And, we CAN because we have that freedom to do so.  It is our servicemen (and women) – both veterans and those who sacrificed their lives – who have made sure we have these freedoms.  It is a time to DO these fun things, but do them consciously – knowing and expressing to each other why we are blessed to be able to do them.  It is a celebration – of our freedoms – of our families and friends – and a remembrance – AND celebration — of the lives of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, who made these things possible.  Not all wars are equally “honorable”, and not all truly defend our freedoms as we hope their purposes are.  That is a political issue only and is NOT the point.  All servicemen and women are honorable and are doing their job for our freedoms.  And – that is the point.

I do have a problem with the greeting, “Happy Memorial Day”, which I hear all over.  It is not necessarily a happy day.  It is contemplative, though not morose.  It is a celebration, though a thoughtful one.  As we entered the cocktail party (at the golf club) which we attended the day before Memorial Day, Ray and I were greeted by “Happy Memorial Day” from a staff member there.  I visibly cringed, because the person who said it IS a vet – and did a tour in Iraq.  He should not have had to say that – – but I know he was only doing his job, as I noted he said it to all who arrived.

I am very glad to have made peace with Memorial Day and am now in synch with the true meaning of the day.  🙂