|Photo by Beverly & Pack.|
I could just take this as a day off work and make it a Saturday-on-a-Monday. That's probably the most errant approach.
I could visit a cemetery and honor all dead, no matter their vocation or their manner of death. That's not such a bad way to spend the day. That's a great way to hold people in our memories, but it doesn't speak to the heart of the holiday.
I could honor living soldiers / veterans. That's a lot closer to the purpose of the holiday, and I will probably call my veteran father today (retired navy, active duty stationed in Japan when I was born states side).
However, if I honored those who died while serving in the armed forces by decorating his or her grave, then I am in complete harmony with the purpose of this holiday.
As a retired English teacher, I find poetry a great invitation to meditate about a particular topic. Here are three poems focused on Memorial Day.
The first poem about Memorial Day (formerly called Decoration Day) was written as a tribute to the Civil War dead.
Here is the last stanza of "Decoration Day" (published in 1882 in the collection In the Harbor) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (b. 1807):
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been.
The memory shall be ours.
The second poem about Memorial Day was written by a Canadian soldier fighting in the Great War (WW1) on the battlefield in Belgium. "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae (b. 1872) is oft-quoted and the reason why red poppies have been affiliated with Memorial Day.
"To you from failing hands we throw / The torch be yours to hold it high!"
The third poem was written more recently and published in 1994. "Memorial Day" by Michael Anania (b. 1939) is more subtle and complex. The setting is a tree-lined cemetery, populated not just with gravestones but with visitors and flowers--under a brilliant sun. I enjoy his imagery of decay contrasted with new life:
"such fingers kneading the damp earth gently down / on new roots, black humus caught in grey hair"
I also enjoy the poem's mention of older adults telling stories and reciting family history to the young as a way to bind the generations together.
I hope the day affords you some time to reflect. If you would like to share stories that honor soldiers (whether or not they died in battle), it would be wonderful to read about them in the comments.
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