There have been periods in our history - at least, during my lifetime - when Memorial Day wasn't much more than a day at the beach or an excuse for a family barbeque. Lately Memorial Day observances seem to be more in tune with the intended purpose of the holiday - to honor the men and women who have given their lives for this country of ours.
It makes sense that a nation at war is more motivated to honor these men and women than a nation that is enjoying a long spell of peace. After all, when we are at war, the sacrifices are fresh and personal to the friends and family of those who have fallen. And we've been at war for quite a while now, and the end is not in sight.
Even when I was young I had an appreciation for those who laid down their lives in the service of their country. But, now that I'm not so young, the weight of sadness is heavier. When I see pictures of these heroes, I'm always astounded at their fresh young faces. We can't fully appreciate youth until we've lost it. Memorial Day prompts a sense of awe and gratitude. But there's also a sense of helplessness in the knowledge that no words we can say and no honors we can give can do justice to the sacrifice.
Then too, I can't help but feel a sense of grief over the condition of humanity that has driven us to war since the beginning of time. I'm neither a pacifist nor a warmonger, viewing both of these extremes as sinful. Pacifists lack courage and warmongers lack the milk of human kindness. But humanity has the habit of swinging like a pendulum from one sinful extreme to the other. It's this fatal flaw in humanity that Christians long to be free of when they pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Memorial Day was born out of the grief and sorrow of the Civil War. The new holiday honored both Union and Confederate soldiers. There's a special place in my heart for Confederate soldiers. They are not only forgotten, but denigrated. In this age of political correctness, they are seen only as defenders of slavery. It doesn't seem to matter that most of them never owned a slave and considered themselves to be fighting for the sovereignty of the states they called home - the sovereignty that the Constitution guaranteed. These facts are ignored by both liberal and conservative commentators. It's a pity that the Confederate soldiers' cause was tainted by slavery, because state sovereignty was worth fighting for; and we suffer as a nation to this very day because of its loss.
Here's a salute to all the soldiers and sailors who have fallen in all our sad wars. As fas as I know, there are no official lyrics to the bugler's Taps but these are the ones I know:
When your last day is past,
From afar some bright star o'er your grave,
Watch will keep while you sleep with the brave.