The Beat Goes On

We are approaching the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the U.S. federal holiday on which we honor soldiers who have died in wars.  Memorial Day is always the last Monday in May, and the weekend for many serves as one of the bookends of summer.  (Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is the other.)

Memorial Day was originally a day to honor the dead from the American Civil War.  In fact, more than honoring, it was a day of reconciliation; flowers were put on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetery in the 1870's.  After World War I, Memorial Day was changed to be a day of remembrance for soldiers who died in all wars.  It appears that we will always have wars and always need a day of remembrance and even more we need to have days of reconciliation.

War is not what it used to be.  For one thing, we don't declare war so much as we just engage in it.  The U.S. is involved militarily in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.   President Bush declared that we were fighting a war on terror.  I don't know if that's what we are still doing or not.  Fighting and killing, no matter what the impetus or the plan or the goal, all seems like war to me.

For another thing, our general citizenry appears to be paying a different kind of attention to war than was the case, say, during World War II, when the whole country was involved in some sort of war effort.  Now only some of our country is involved in a war effort that for many is just something that's going on in the background.   And Memorial Day celebrations mirror that - it's more about the fact that the pool is opening or that there's a great sale on outdoor grills and cars than it is about cleaning cemeteries and decorating graves or stopping to remember and talk about war and its effect on our families and our country and our lives.

But in the end, people are still dying.  And so we must still remember and hope that one day there will be reconciliation.

The BCP contains this prayer for our enemies:

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  (BCP 816)


Perpetua said…
A thoughtful post, Penny (busy catching up after my trip) In the UK we have a public holiday on the last Monday in may too, but remember our war dead in November, near or on the anniversary of the end of WW1. The Sunday nearest Novemeber 11th is remembrance Sunday, with cghurch services and wreath-layings at the war memorial in every town and village. Increasingly, also, there is a revival of the old tradition of observing a 2-minutes silence at 11am in the 11th, wherever one may happen to be.
Perpetua, we also celebrate Veterans' Day on November 11, but it is to honor veterans whereas Memorial Day is to honor the war dead. Many people don't really know the difference as these holidays are more about shopping opportunities here. Many towns and cities still have parades for one or the other (or maybe both). Neither of these are church observances, however, but civic occasions. It is interesting how we grapple with these remembrances and how we might keep them as part of our civic life....