It’s Memorial Day in the United States.
This is a federal holiday when we honor military personnel who have died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. I am reminded of the elderly neighbor downstairs, Clyde, who passed away two years ago on this day. He was a Navy man who donned his original uniform every year and either marched in the Memorial Day parade or paid homage by watching the parade with his wife. Clyde was proud to have served and honor his brethern every May.
This is also a time of reflection and, for myself, it’s one of understanding the meaning of resilience and sacrifice.
Have you watched the movie Hacksaw Ridge, the World War II movie based on Army Medic Desmond Doss, who was the first man to receive the Medal of Honor without ever firing a weapon? Medic Doss was a pacifist and refused to carry a rifle based on his religion. The battle of Hacksaw Ridge, in Okinawa, Japan, was brutal and the film is graphic, but it’s a sobering story of how one soldier can be resilient and make sacrifices in the face of severe brutality.
As humans, we’re not always resilient or willing to make sacrifices for the sake of others or the good of a cause. We whine about the weather, that our job sucks, that there’s no chocolate or wine in the house, we have to stay in the house, we have to wear masks that don’t compliment our fashionable self, our travel plans have been cancelled, we’re bored with 200 cable channels, we broke a fingernail, there’s nothing to do, the cat puked on the floor AGAIN…
I can easily lump myself in that group. As a member of the workplace Employee Services/Trauma Informed Care Committee, sometimes I do not feel or act resilient. There are days, in the face of overwhelming busy-ness, I feel put out, not wanting to sacrifice time or energy to respond to everyone who requests everything. Funny, considering I’m a public servant…it’s my job to serve. I whine as well as anyone else, not thinking about the men and women in uniform around the world who have made sacrifices, along with today’s doctors, nurses and front-line workers who have given their lives over caring for others. I don’t think about the poverty and injustices that people bravely face in other countries or those who go above and beyond the line of duty (police, fire fighters) and risk their life to save the lives of others.
The last few months have opened my eyes to just how spoiled and soft we can be in this country. Our creature comforts have invaded the durability and flexibility of life. How will I cook without a microwave? How do I get to work without two cars in the garage? How do I have a summer without a boat or motorcycle or cabin? How does one stay at home when there’s nothing to do? Why do I have to take these extra steps during a pandemic?
How would have soldiers during World War I responded to those questions? Probably, “What’s a microwave? My buddies and I eat canned beef, bread and biscuits every day. We’re lucky to have vegetables or a package of cookies from home.” “I’m lucky to be alive, let alone own a car.” “Really? I don’t have a car and you ask me about a cabin? I’d like to go home, thank you very much.” “Yes, I want to go home and stay home and not hold a rifle in my hands, not have to kill another human being.” “Quit complaining. Your battlefield is on your living room couch, on your own terms. I’d gladly trade places.” Perspective. The more we rely on physical and material comforts, the less likely we are to get into the trenches and endure any type of self-described hardship.
The men and women who don the uniform and serve their country, who call themselves “sheepdogs,” are willing to lay down their comforts and even their lives in order to keep the peace, to ensure freedom from oppression, and save lives. They look out for and protect the rest of us as if we are their children. They sacrifice time and thousands of miles away from their families and sometimes come home in a box.
It is the life sacrifice of veterans that the U.S. honors today. Those willing to die for their country. Those that do not worry about being overwhelmed on the job or about microwaves or more damn rules. They simply do because that is their calling.
Sacrifice and resilience are abilities to learn and embrace. They give us a toughness, but also the spirit of readiness and calm when we are thrown hardballs and blows. They allow us to serve and help others in need, to take care of our emotional selves, and to not have tantrums over things that don’t really matter.
On this Memorial Day, I honor the fallen soldiers and those that have served or continue to serve the United States. I honor fallen soldiers in other countries who have made the same sacrifice for their people. I honor fallen health care workers, police, fire fighters and front-line workers in the face of a pandemic. I honor their resilience and sacrifice in putting aside the comforts they would desire in choosing to serve for the good of all.
Our fallen soldiers have my deepest thanks and a promise I will not whine about anything today, tomorrow or the rest of the week.
It is for them.