Too often, Memorial Day becomes just another three-day weekend, a holiday that marks the beginning of summer, the opening of public pools, the excitement of children who know that the school year is about to end.
The holiday doesn’t have to be this way. It can be more. And it can be more with just a little bit of an effort. You don’t have to give much to get a lot.
If you have suffered a loss, remembering can be painfully difficult. But it is still worthy of at least a brief encounter with the pain. And you do not have to do it alone. You do not make others miserable by asking them to help on this day.
If you have not suffered a loss, think of someone who has. Consider what they gave. Consider what they are giving now.
Memorial Day can be that day when each of us makes a small effort to remember those who gave their lives because they chose to serve.
Think of this moment as a short, private prayer. Think of it as a moment when you acquire sincere sympathy. You won’t regret it.
I know in America these days, we have grown used to, if not dependent on, public shows of gratitude and grief.
The way I see it, Memorial Day ceremonies are risky. Unless you have no other choice, I do not recommend going to an event where you must listen to political speeches.
I have never trusted the sentiment of elected officials on this day. This includes my own forgettable speeches offered during my years of public service.
I do not believe that remembering is a group sport.
Walk away from the group and get quiet.
And understand that remembering isn’t supposed to be easy or natural. It is work. The objects of our memory are further away than they appear in the mirror.
Turn off as much noise as possible and consider what we have lost. Don’t worry about the why; that may ruin your day.
More advice: Push away the guilt and all other bad feelings you live with every other day. Remembering does not have to be sad. Remember that good people died for us.
In my case, I will take a few minutes to quietly remember the men I knew who died before this day had a meaning for them. They were too young, too free of terrible memories, too unburdened of wondering if they were good men.
I say I will never forget, but I do. I enter the tunnel of my everyday life and I lose the memory of their faces, their laughs, their stories.
So, I remember Greco. I remember McCall and Solano, Gore, Bomar, Vannoy and Collins. Each left their homes and did not come back. Their families were notified of their deaths and given a folded American flag that had draped their son’s casket before it was lowered into the ground.
For those of you who do not have a relative or friend who died serving us, try pushing your imagination to consider the grief of those who do.
Really try; get past the politics of war and military service for once and push yourself to be grateful, in basic human terms. It is a meaningful thing to do.
If you do have relatives or friends who died serving us, be careful to remember them without anger or bitterness. This can sometimes be very difficult when we know they missed the chance to be good husbands, great fathers, committed citizens and role models.
Remembering the source of our grief is dangerous. It can become a swirling mass of grief.
Try to move away from this vortex to a place of confident knowledge that they would not approve of our self-pity.
Remember their confidence, and their senses of humor. Remember their quirks. Remember their stubbornness and pride. Remember them as completely as you can, as the men and women they were.
And in the process, understand how their faces are reflected in the faces of the young men and women who wear the uniform today.
So today, I will say goodbye to my friends with a smile born of gratitude. Wishing them alive will not bring them back. But it will bring me back to a single healthy moment when I can honestly, sincerely thank them and be happy I had the good fortune once to know them.