Memorial Day: A Veteran’s Perspective
Each Memorial Day, our nation takes a collective pause to remember what we have lost in the defense of freedom. There is much talk of gratitude for those who have served and memorials will take place to honor those who have fallen on the battlefields through the centuries.
That is all well and good, but is it really commensurate with the occasion? Do we really know whom we are thanking and what we are thankful for? Or, are we lacking in a perspective that might be easier to avoid than embrace?
We often thank veterans for their service, but on Memorial Day, we ought to be asking the Veterans whom they thank.
More than anyone, the warrior and the veteran understand a universal truth about war. That is, when evil holds freedom for ransom, the price that must be paid is life itself. Those who have survived combat live with the realization that it could have, and in many cases should have been their life demanded instead of the man next to them.
It is hard to understand what it means to have someone die in your place until you experience it firsthand. Then, there is a painful clarity about it all – the realization of a responsibility to carry on, to live up to, and to memorialize the sacrifice given. It is when taps is finished, and the flag folded that the hard work of honoring the fallen begins.
How exactly does one give thanks for a life spared at the expense of another? If you could thank them every hour of every day, it wouldn’t be nearly enough. It is an un-payable debt and an experience they carry for the rest of their lives.
Consequently, they do not measure their life by taking stock of everything they have gained for themselves and what they have yet to accomplish. Instead, they begin each and every day with the knowledge of the monumental loss endured on their behalf. They think of others before themselves because that is what was so tragically modeled for them on the battlefield. They remember their friend is no longer here, yet they remain. Then, they set about living up to what they have been given. It looks different from one veteran to another, but the constant struggle to accept what has been given is the same. Our country and this world have much to learn from the perspective of a warrior who has put their life on the line and is intimately familiar with the consequences of that choice.
As a country, as communities, as families, and as citizens we ought to remember the lives given in defense of all we hold dear, but it shouldn’t be an abstract thought.
Rather, we should know who and what we are grateful for.
Yes…we should know the names of the fallen.
We should learn how they died, and we recount the dreams that died with them.
We should tell their stories to our children at the dinner table, and we should carry their surviving families on our shoulders.
Most importantly, we should idolize the particular type of love that called them to a battlefield to stand and fight for someone else.
So, here is my suggestion to anyone who says they want to honor the fallen. Seek out a veteran and ask them to tell you the name and story of a fallen Soldier. The combat veterans will give you the first hand accounts of true heroism. Make room for those fallen in your heart. Dream of what their life could have been like after the war. Imagine a family torn apart in grief, a spouse left alone in this world, children without a father to learn from.
Carry their names on your heart. Share their stories in your home, at your work, in your community. Memorial day lasts a mere 24 hours, but the men and women we remember today shape every moment of every day across this nation. The burden to recognize the significance of those lives lost falls to each of us.
The stories may be hard to hear and the thoughts painful to confront. But, they will change your perspective. You’ll start to notice what you have in life more than what you want. Slowly, your sense of self-aggrandizement will diminish, replaced by gratitude and joys for the simpler things in life.
If you were to ask me whom I thank for the life I have, I’d tell you the story of my friends Chris and Gabe, how they perished on a trail in Afghanistan in 2009. I’d tell you they were 2 of the finest people I’ve ever met, and that they’ve changed countless lives forever with their life, service, and sacrifice.
The question is, are you ready to let them change your life, too?