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All We Remember

Today’s question: what do you remember? 

It’s Memorial Day 2024. For me and so many others, this year is different. 

I wrestled with the thought of writing some dissertation detailing either the history and evolution of the holiday or a reflective tribute to my loved ones, though I felt pushed toward something more. One of the most significant pieces of wisdom gifted to me from my late father: “The world will often show you only two options: search for the third.”

To our servicemen and women: thank you. Thank you for everything. 

Memorial Day signifies the national - and time-honored - tradition of recognizing those who have died in service of the American people. Officially recognized in 1971, but traditionally honored since the conclusion of the Civil War, Memorial Day has evolved from a national holiday with the distinction of honoring deceased servicemen and women to a holiday that honors, applauds, and embraces servicemen and women from all U.S. military branches, including living veterans, active military, and deceased veterans. 

Over the years in our family, Memorial Day weekend became an unofficial start to summer, marked by annual trips to the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach in New York. From the sun baking the crispy sands of Jones Beach to the smells of sunscreen and tastes of freshly-prepared lemonade & hot dogs, these family excursions were characterized by togetherness and a purpose to remember. We often visited our grandmother’s - Mom’s mother - resting place in Westbury, NY, followed by drives to Westbury Public Library, Westbury Gardens, the Milleridge Inn, and Mom’s childhood home. Remembering these moments helped to appreciate the adventures and experiences we enjoyed as a family along the way in this life. 

Still, Memorial Day wasn’t really about fanfare and memories. 

My late father - an Air Force veteran - often spoke highly of his experiences during his four years of service. The discipline, friendship, and honor forged through his military service were pillars of his own character. He spoke of life lessons: facing uncertainty and adversity; respecting - and speaking up to - authority;  In his last few weeks, he shared his stories from his service in the Air Force, ranging from both harrowing and happy tales of his time at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to his chapter at Altus Air Force Base in Altus, Oklahoma - where, as he often joked, the “mission was fishin’.”. 

After 40 years of different paths, we had the good fortune of meeting two of his close Air Force buddies - Rich and John - who kindly visited Dad in his final week. While Dad’s cognitive abilities were limited at this point, certain intimate moments with our family - and the extension of Rich and John - showcased how important Dad’s Air Force memories were to him and others. We joked, reminisced, and asked questions, gaining a new appreciation for that time in their lives.

As we paged through Dad’s Air Force scrapbook, you could see the magnitude of life lived by him and these men and women throughout their service. Taking a look around the room while looking through the book, you could see that life’s triumphs and hardships changed their faces over time. Smiles that once beamed a sense of passion and duty now reflected the bittersweet moment we were all living through. As some of you know, at the end of that week, Dad passed away peacefully, and we were introduced to an unwanted experience: saying goodbye to Dad. 

I could recite nearly every detail of the following week, though, suffice to say, Dad received full military honors during his burial. Mom was presented with a memorial American flag and three shells of the 21-gun salute, signifying Duty, Honor, and Country. 

So, today’s question: what do you remember?

Everyone remembers differently. My older brother often jokes about the “memory-erasing doors” of the grocery store when he walks in and can’t remember what items he needed. Still, I think what we choose to remember - and choose to forget - matters in the way we move forward in our lives. Hardship, trauma, and suffering exist in contrast to the joys, happiness, and love of our lives. As much as I can, I think it’s important to focus on what is good about our experiences. We learn, laugh, love, and live a bit differently every time we are honest to ourselves and others. 

In the Holy Bible, there is a verse in John 15 attributed to Jesus’ teachings: 

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Former President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech in France in 1910, often referred to as the “Man in the Arena” speech. For me, his words resonate in remembering - and honoring - the solemn meaning behind today’s holiday:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit below to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”

Take time today to remember those who laid down their lives in service of something greater than themselves. It’s about them. It’s about you. Laugh, cry, smile, and walk on. Celebrate, mourn, remember, and live forward.

It will be okay. Easy breaths. Love one another.

Wishing you and your loved ones a safe and peaceful Memorial Day.

Be kind. Be yourself. See you again next week. 

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