One of my earliest reminisces of this May holiday, before I even understood its real meaning, is of riding in the back of a pickup truck with my family down winding country roads to reach the old family cemeteries. Once there, we would disembark and make our way up a hilly path, to a fenced-in area of carefully tended lawn bordered by shady trees. Laden with plastic tulips and daisies, we would seek the markers for ancestors whose names I only recognized from stories, and place our bounty in careful clusters and rows.
This is one way my family honored those who had gone before, ancestors whose faces were etched in the memories of the older generation, and introduced to the children by way of books and boxes of old sepia-toned photos. My parents had relatives who had never come home from war, and others who didn’t survive childhood. There were aunts, uncles, siblings, and generations of grandparents, grouped in couples and families; bound forever to memory by icons of marble and metal, of small flags and larger angels, of loving epitaphs and last words.
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to honor the dead. Each culture across the globe has developed its own customs of remembrance; for instance, the Day of the Dead celebrated by families of Mexico and the southwestern part of the United States, and All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, Catholic holidays celebrated in many countries.
There are books and television channels devoted to history and software that traces genealogies as far back as written records exist. What all of these have in common is that they are a way to remember our roots, and those who have given their lives for us, that we may continue to live and hopefully honor them in the paths we choose.
Today is the official Memorial Day celebrated in the United States. Today, especially, we celebrate the lives of our family members who are no longer with us, and the veterans who gave their lives in service to our nation. Today we honor their sacrifices, their accomplishments, and their legacy. However and whenever you choose to honor, celebrate, and mourn lost family and our national heroes, let today be a day of commemoration, and celebration.
Happy Memorial Day!