Tag Archives: courage

Let’s honor… who and what?

A Normandy Cemetery

Memorial Day–a day that triggers different thoughts and feelings. Also, a day that, hopefully, gives us pause and at least some moments of reflection. For a while this year, I thought an added feature would be a day of argument.

There are some folks who want to clarify the purposes of holidays–they are most noticeable on social media, often posted as a meme (a virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea). I saw one this morning suggesting we should understand there are three related holidays:

  1. Armed Forces Day (third Saturday in May) to pay tribute to those serving.
  2. Memorial Day (fourth Monday in May) to pay tribute to who died in active military service.
  3. Veterans’ Day (November 11) to pay tribute to those have served in the Armed Forces.

So it becomes arguable that there are three different days for three different populations. And the minute something becomes arguable, folks on Facebook are on it.

I value accuracy, but I’m not joining the debate.

I heard a conversation during which one person pointed out that Memorial Day was not a day to thank those currently serving. His listener replied, “Is it possible to thank those who have served or are serving too much?”

I don’t think so.

As a child, I remember visiting my Grandfather’s grave with my Dad this time of year. There were actually several trips involved as the flag holder was cleaned and painted, the stone cleaned, flowers planted… and we were often not alone as others performed similar tasks in anticipation of parades and visits to honor and remember. No one pointed out that Grandfather did not die in active military service and then suggest it was not appropriate to honor him on Memorial Day. I’m not sure if it was because the memories were fresher or because we just didn’t argue so much back then.

George Patton said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” Perhaps that is where we might stand this Memorial Day, recognizing and honoring the lives of those who served and died, who served and lived, and those who are serving are lives to be honored and not forgotten.

Wait, I have to ask…

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This vehicle has GPS–the horse usually knows the way home.

We have a large population of people in America who cannot go anywhere without their GPS–even to places in their own town that they truly were able to find, on their own, just four or five years ago. But now they must take their mobile performance support system with them. They have become completely dependent on the box. I can’t help but think they are in danger of losing the skill of thinking their way through a route by, say, using a map. Or perhaps they have never even learned to read a map!

I’m a huge fan of technology, make no mistake. Even on a short trip to Bangor I’ll often “fire up” Greta (Garmin). She helps me keep a sense of my progress and estimated arrival time. She reminds me occasionally to make a turn and sometimes annoys me when I deviate slightly to stop for coffee with her constant recalculating. I confess I somewhat enjoy taking a shortcut that she doesn’t have in her data bank.

We have a tenuous relationship because I refuse to yield my independent thought and directional capabilities to the support system she represents. I gently remind her that she has, more than once, let me down.  I like to think I can still get myself out of a lost situation when she leads me astray. I’m discovering that the only time I can’t get myself out is when I’ve been blindly following her commands without thinking or paying some attention to where she’s sending me.

Developing a dependency on her not only may dull the senses, I get concerned it might even reduce my sense of adventure. (I am rarely lost, but have been known to have some adventures.) A few years ago I had a great deal of trouble locating a hotel where I had a reservation. My repeated attempts took me past a visitor information center so I decided to get Greta some help. After briefly stating my problem, the staffer said, “Well, the first thing you have to do is turn off the GPS.” I chuckled at this suggestion as he grabbed a pen and unfolded a paper map, and we ultimately had an interesting conversation covering topics such as “sense of direction,” conflicting messages, and self-reliance in a world that’s increasingly driven by technology.

“Getting lost” may be more about losing a sense of place than about finding things. I learned years ago when hiking in the woods that’s it’s important to turn around frequently–the world is going to look differently on the return trip. We become lost when we aren’t feeling oriented or connected to our surroundings. “This doesn’t look right! Where am I?”

As vacation travel season approaches I usually rethink my relationship with Greta. I remind myself she’s pretty good when it comes to goal orientation, but she’s not likely to say things like, “Did you notice…” or “You know, you could try…” Perhaps some day technology will develop sufficiently for Greta to say things like “Nice lane change!” and “you noticed that before I did…” It would reinforce the fact that she’s working for me, it’s not the other way around. I think she should give me a little more credit than she does.

But for now, it’s going to be up to me to be aware of my surroundings–the way it should be. Better yet, it’s my trip and my vacation. Since I gave her the goal, I can change it. For that matter, since it’s vacation, there will be mornings when there is no goal. She’ll spend a lot of time in “map only” mode as we meander. In the kindest way possible, I’ll let her know, “If I need your help today, I’ll ask for it. Let me see what I can find on my own.”

Reminders and Remembering

During a trip through a store recently I found it necessary to wind my way around cases of beer stacked in the aisle. It didn’t take long to recognize this was part of society’s preparation for yet another Memorial Day. I’m not a member of the Temperance Union, so I do not see this as a bad thing.

The day was actually filled with reminders. There was the obligatory stop to deposit a donation in a volunteer fireman’s boot… the need to slow and swerve around the work crews installing flags on the utility poles throughout towns in the area… and the buzzing of lawn mowers and trimmers when driving by cemeteries.

A Normandy Cemetery
A Normandy Cemetery

There’s a lot to love about Memorial Day, really. A memorial is most typically an object, designed to focus memory of something—a person or an event. Memorial Day is meant to remind us of the people who died while serving in the armed forces. Wikipedia puts that number at approximately 1,354,000 for all wars. That is a sobering statistic and a lot of remembering.

But these are not just faceless numbers and names, either. Little effort is required to see them, even if only in our minds and hearts.

An admirable characteristic of our society is that we are willing to memorialize these men and women. We do so in many ways—from granite monuments to parades and ceremonies, we do remember.

One Memorial Day reminder that I haven’t had yet this year is my annual purchase of a poppy. I have past purchases scattered around, attached to jackets, and the lamp beside the bed. I could probably find one in my jewelry box. But it’s the act of purchasing that is important, perhaps because I get to see a face and shake hands with someone who served. I fear this is a fading tradition, even as we celebrate its 100th anniversary. In 1915, Moina Michael came up with the idea of wearing a red poppy in honor of those who died in war. She also sold poppies to friends and coworkers with the proceeds going to benefit servicemen in need.

The program was adopted by the VFW in 1922 and became both a source of income and an important memorial. Most are at least casually familiar with the poem “In Flanders Fields.” Few are aware that it was the inspiration for Moina’s own poem and her poppy program.

We cherish too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.

While we are willing to memorialize these men and woman, I think Moina understood an important truth. If we were not willing to march or watch… if we were not willing to purchase and hang flags throughout our communities… if we did not visit cemeteries and erect monuments… (all important things we should do)… there are still undeniable signals—some as simple as a red poppy—to remind us that the blood of heroes never dies.

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.