Once again, on this last Monday in May, we place springtime’s flowers on the graves of those who wore the uniform and fought in defense of their country — our country. Standing on a hillside, we feel the touch of vast sky that surrounds us. Looking outward from the continent’s Rocky Mountains, we envision cities and towns all across America where people gather as we do.
Monday is Memorial Day, and we wait beneath the flag to hear the roll call of names.
Some are familiar, offering a glimpse of days and years from our past, but others remain unknown, prompting no personal recollection of either youthful adventures or later ties. We are here to recognize them all.
How do we give meaning to this holiday? If, as we so glibly say to each other, the dead live on in what their lives have inspired, the time has certainly come to think about what it is of them that we shall pass on to the future. Our coming together Monday speaks with clarity in answer to the question. Neighbors and friends, young and old, newcomers and old timers, we are reaching for a larger perspective that has been missed too often in the throes of our country’s economic and political struggles.
Monday is Memorial Day. Setting aside our differences, silencing the distractions of television, computers, and phones, we can hear the voices of those who were buried under red, white and blue. Respecting them, we can respect each other, and listen. They represent our past, the generations that have laid the foundation for the community of which we are all a part.
The bricks and mortar of that community formed from the intimacy of families, the larger and wider interests of neighborhoods, the complex infrastructures of towns and cities, and finally, the underlying commonality that unites us all — a republic governed by laws its people created for themselves. The men and women we recall Monday have served as safeguards during times of armed conflict, facing dangers that could and, in too many instances did, cost their lives.
When we hear their names, we learn not only about them but also about who we are. Keeping them in our memory, we can understand more about ourselves and, in turn, grasp the possibility of development into something bigger. Stepping back in time to see where they have been and all that they have done, we gain a sense of our responsibility for the future. Having lived and thrived in freedom, we enjoy what they helped establish. Every year when we walk along these paths, we add another layer of history. Now we look ahead to determine our role in formation of the next layer.
As the delicate new green of aspen spreads upon the hills that surround our valley, we pause to capture this brief moment between springtime’s new birth and summer’s burgeoning growth. The color guard stands at attention; members of the military raise right hands in salute; the rest of us place hands upon our hearts. Honoring the men and women who fought on our behalf, we are linked in a stratum that lies between life and death. In this place of final rest, it is up to us to sustain and preserve the presence of those departed who offered the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
We are the new green growth around the marble stones placed in winters of the past. The sound of a bugler playing “Taps” comforts us. Echoing through the trees, its melody reminds us.
Monday is Memorial Day and, united in a single purpose, we remember.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982.