I had to write a speech for a Memorial Day event tomorrow. The process of researching and writing made me think a little more about what Memorial Day means here in the U.S.
Growing up in Canada, we didn’t have Memorial Day. In fact, in Canada, last weekend was the holiday and it was Victoria Day. Growing up, however, we always called it the May Two-Four Weekend. Usually it was around May 24, and usually it was camping with a “two-four” (aka, a 24-pack of beer). Canada’s memorial for soldiers and the price they paid is called Remembrance Day, and it falls on November 11, commemorating the German signing of the Armistice ending WWI at 11 a.m. on 11/11/1918. King George V declared it a holiday thereafter, and throughout the Commenwealth it was called various things, including Poppy Day.
Why Poppy Day? Well, that goes back to the poem written by a Canadian, John McCrae, called In Flanders Fields. It’s a classic poem, written by a medic who served in WWI. It goes like this:
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In Canada, we wore poppies to remember those who had died in wars defending Canada (and, presumably, the rest of the British Commonwealth). They placed poppies upon the grave of the unknown soldier on Remembrance Day.
Here in the U.S., Memorial Day really began after the Civil War, with various communities claiming to have begun its practice. Originally called Decoration Day, it was a time to decorate the graves of those slain in the Civil War. Today, Memorial Day is one in which Americans remember those who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy today.
The ultimate way to demonstrate respect for the price others paid is to be *engaged.* To utilize the freedoms that were won for us. That includes voting in elections … a freedom many around the world seek but Americans take for granted. That includes freedom of speech … saying what you think and being respectful of the fact that others have that same right. That includes freedom to worship … how and Who you want. So … Vote! Speak! Worship!
At 3 p.m., people are asked to provide a moment of silence for those who died in the uniform. After that moment of reflection and/or prayer, there’s a whole year in which you can remember those who paid the ultimate price for freedom by embracing and utilizing your freedoms, by volunteering and being an engaged member of your community, by respecting and celebrating others. By “community,” I also mean your Social Media community. It’s a great place to use your freedoms to speak and to engage with others. The price that was paid and continues to be paid is too great not to extract full value!