How should we honor the fallen?
Today is Memorial Day. As I write this, I sit in my living room staring out at a dreary, rainy morning. The weather is befitting of my mood, as I prepare to head to the airport (again) and leave my family (again) to go earn a living. But setting aside my whining, it’s appropriate that we spend some time today in somber reflection.
Memorial Day here in the United States is a day set aside to honor those who died while serving in the armed forces. There is some ambiguity as to how this practice officially started, but it first came to national prominence after the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history. Originally known as Decoration Day, it was a time for visiting the graves of the fallen. Perhaps in the wake of such a divisive conflict, grief was the one thing that could unite us like nothing else.
Perhaps it’s a form of that grief I’m feeling now. As I’ve shared here before, my day job (until this writing thing takes off — anybody wanna buy a manuscript?) is in the field of investigations and security consulting. Part of that means helping people avoid dangerous situations all over the world. So naturally, that means I have to be aware of the dangerous locations and events that will impact the people I serve. In a literal sense, it’s part of my job to absorb all the bad stuff that happens around the world, and to anticipate more bad things that might happen. Sometimes, that can get overwhelming.
As I prepare for my work week, let me share a partial list of things happening around the world. Keep in mind, this is just for areas where my company does business:
- ISIS-linked militants have taken siege over a portion of the Southern Philippines. There is ongoing combat between militant forces and the Philippine military, resulting in many deaths and an increasing tide of evacuations around the region.
- The aftermath and investigation of the Manchester arena bombing continues. Intelligence strongly indicates the venue was chosen specifically to target children.
- The Zika virus has been reported for the first time in India, elevating health risks for travelers to the area.
- In New Orleans, right outside my office, a man was arrested last night for a brutal double murder.
From broad geo-political risks to medical concerns to a single argument at a block party turning deadly, there is no shortage of “bad things” that might happen to any of us. And there’s certainly no shortage of reasons for somber reflection. But even amid all this, I am reminded to take my reflection a bit deeper. And to do so, I go back to the origins of this holiday.
Just over one hundred and fifty years ago, Americans were killing fellow Americans. More than six hundred thousand of our own died as we took up arms against ourselves. As divided as we may feel our society is today, we can recognize that it’s better today than it was back then. Despite North Korea, despite ISIS, the world has literally never been safer. Violent crime in the United States and beyond has been steadily declining for decades. We have conquered diseases, and reduced famine and suffering significantly around the world.
Certainly pain and suffering still exists, and certainly there is much work still to do. But on a day of remembrance, it is good and proper to not only remember the dark times, but to also remember how far we’ve come since.
I have a friend whose name I won’t mention here. Thankfully, he did not die in combat, but the way he sees it, part of him did. He lost a leg and a couple of fingers to a land mine in some dusty country halfway around the world. That and similar injuries have befallen many in our modern armed forces, but what sets my friend apart is the way he’s chosen to live since that happened.
While in a hospital bed beginning the long convalescence ahead of him, he was visited by then-President George W. Bush. He made a decision at that point, and a promise to the President and to himself. “I’ll be running laps in a year,” my friend said. The President said that if he could do that, he would run a lap with him. A year later, a picture was featured in national newspapers of my friend jogging with the President.
When I think of Memorial Day, I think of my friend. He’s a pretty great guy, and a poignant reminder that no matter what has happened in the past, the future is always an open road. Today, and every day, may we all remember, celebrate our progress, and share our hope for even brighter days ahead. And yes, to honor those who have sacrificed their all in service to our nation. This is a fitting memorial: that we all do our part to ensure their sacrifice was not in vain.