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Memorial Day: More Than a Moment of Silence

For a large percentage of the American population, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. It is an annual three-day weekend that might herald time at the lake, opening the pool, grilling with friends or outdoor sports. For a time, amid deployments and briefings and attending services for fallen friends, I resented the faceless population who still thought of Memorial Day as a time to pick up a great deal on a grill.

That is, until a few years ago when I heard my husband tell a group of new Army Officers that they should embrace fun and sunshine on Memorial Day because it is more than a moment of silence.

His comment stuck with me, and a few days later I asked him if it bothered him, as a soldier, that Memorial Day had become more about BOGO offers and potato salad than remembering the fallen. Shaking his head, he explained that it was a pretty fair bet that the service members we’ve lost had spent a Memorial Day weekend or two grilling with family, drinking a beer on the beach, or traveling to an out-of-town concert. He said that this weekend, unlike most of our hectic lives, is about enjoying the time we have and people in our lives.

Honoring with celebration

A few years ago, Memorial Day generated a small social media firestorm when Facebook chatter in the military community ramped up over people “celebrating Memorial Day.” How can we celebrate a day that is set aside to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice? The moment of silence and wreath laying at Arlington National cemetery is a moving experience laden with meaning and ceremony. And, there is just as much honor and mourning taking place at kitchen tables and back porches around the country where a gold star family has an empty chair.

But solemnity is not the only way to honor and remember. Over this weekend, friends will get together. There will probably be serious moments -- recognition of brothers-and sisters-in-arms who are no longer with us or who are hurting -- but there will also be laughter, friendship and the support that comes from simply enjoying the company of people you enjoy and care about.

In an ideal world

If life were completely fair, the burden of military service (deployments, family separation and loss) would spread relatively equally throughout our country’s population. There would be widespread understanding of the emotional, financial and physical cost of that service. There would be effective and efficient systems in place to offset some of that cost for our service members and their families.

But, that’s not the world we live in. So, for some of the American public, Memorial Day is little more than a break from the daily grind, and the perfect time for a barbecue. When the news reports that the troops will be deploying to yet another war torn foreign country, they don’t realize the importance that Memorial Day will have for the families of the service members who don’t make it back.

Our service members are ordinary people, from every walk of life, who are able to do extraordinary things because they chose to put their lives on the line. Because they do, we can safely spend a three-day weekend going to barbecues, shopping for great deals or playing outside with our kids.

You don’t have to visit Arlington to honor the sacrifice of fallen heroes. Enjoy your day. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Know that someone laid down their life to give you this opportunity. Honoring our fallen is more than a 21-gun salute and a moment of silence. It is recognizing the opportunity that their sacrifice protected.

Don’t waste it.

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