Every year, one of the things that I share is a list of rules for honoring Memorial Day. It’s a way of sharing my perspective on the day, and for helping those who may not have served, or who may not know someone who does, some idea about what the day means for those of us who have. And honestly, some of this is about making sure that I *personally* have a better day.
Because Memorial Day isn’t an easy holiday for a lot of us.
It occurred to me that many of us are spending Memorial Day in a little different space this year. So I felt like I should update the rules for quarantine. I offer the rules as a 12 year veteran of the US Army who completed combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. My son leaves in just a few weeks for Air Force basic training. My son-in-law is an active duty Marine at Camp LeJeune. My brother, grandfather, and father-in-law all served. The military has been a family calling.
Now. The rules.
1. Know what Memorial Day is.
Memorial Day is a holiday to honor those members of the military who lost their lives in service. it is not about honoring military service (that’s Veteran’s Day) or those who are currently serving (that’s Armed Forces Day). It is about honoring those among us who have given what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion, those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Memorial Day is not about BBQs (even at a medically appropriate distance), or sales (even online), or the unofficial start of summer. It is about remembering.
2. Remember that Memorial Day is hard for many of us.
Think about Rule #1 and the meaning of this day. For many of us, today is about the people we lost. About Sam and Kevin and Mike D. Men and women who were family to us. Who ARE our family. Lost and gone forever. Don’t wish me a “happy” Memorial Day. Don’t tell me to “have a great day.” It is a long, hard, painful day full of ghosts and sadness and guilt. And also joy and nostalgia and love. It is complicated for many of us. Respect that.
3. Don’t thank us for our service.
Seriously. Not on Memorial Day. That is not the day. There is a time and place for that (hint: Veteran’s Day). See #2. Would you want someone thanking you for being a parent on the anniversary of the death of your child? Exactly. It’s not about that. Not Monday.
4. Do something to directly support vets.
SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS DO NOT SUPPORT VETERANS. Don’t just pay lip service and virtue signal. Do something real to make a difference. Schedule a Zoom coffee and listen to a vet’s stories. Support the work of veterans and veteran owned businesses financially. Give to organizations that are making a real difference for vets (ask in the comments or email / Twitter me if you want ideas). Get to know vets as people. Don’t just say “happy memorial day! smiley emoji” on Facebook and think you’re good. Because you’re not. Do something.
I swear to God if I see a waving flag gif on your Instagram I will block you immediately and delete you from my phone.
5. Know that vets are people first.
We aren’t monolithic. We have different backgrounds and politics and ideas. Not every vet responds the same way to every situation. Acknowledge that our service helps describe us — it does not solely define us.
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Be well all. And have a meaningful Memorial Day.