For each person, Memorial Day Weekend means something different. For many, it's the unofficial start of summer. It's a weekend full of retail sales, travel, and a chance to visit with friends and family. It's also a chance to remember our friends, family, neighbors, and those strangers that we've never met who selflessly served but never made it home.
As a veteran who has lost some friends and comrades along the way, I've struggled with this. In the early days following my combat service, the thought of 1/2 price sales and barbecues in "celebration" of Memorial Day, a day of remembrance, angered me and rightfully so. This was a day to remember the dead. It should be a solemn, introspective, and thoughtful day about those who died. And it shouldn't be confused with Veterans Day either. That one really used to get me riled up.
Each year as we approach Memorial Day weekend, my social media feed gets inundated with photos of lost friends and reminders to honor them in the days leading up to it. So as you can probably imagine, this day that seems to stretch into a week is about as somber as it gets but my overall thoughts about the holiday have changed.
I'm about to have a real honest moment hear so I hope you don't mind. Please don't judge.
It seems like we should #NeverForget and honor their memories by going to remembrance ceremonies, sharing our memories, and posting endless patriotic memes on Facebook. That is the correct thing to do, right? That's what it seems like, anyways. It probably is right or close the right thing. But, it's those things that bring to the surface other memories and anxieties that I'd rather not deal with.
I know, I'm turning this into something about me. Hear me out, though.
I think about things that happened. I think about the ones we lost and those who were injured. Then I think about how I'm here, they're not, and that I should (or could have) done something different to change their outcome; which is silly, because there's nothing I could have done. Then I feel guilty.
Not just because of my previous choices in life, but that I am also being selfish and blaming them in a round about way for me having these feelings. Something they don't get to have anymore. It's a complicated bit of emotion, for sure.
What's strange too is that part of my life feels like a lifetime ago. I was a totally different person and I'd rather not think or dwell on that period of my life too much. You see, the Army was very much a part of my identity, even after I got out. It wasn't just a job. It was my life, family, and community. I immersed myself in it for 15-years.
Now things are different. I've boxed that part of my life up (figuratively and literally) and I've moved on and created a new me. I'm not sure if it's that I'm not nostalgic or that I did that for my own well being. Maybe both. I don't know. Anyways, I'm sorry about the dark trip there but thank you for staying with me. I needed to get that off my chest.
So, now to keep my own emotional self-balance, I do my once a year obligatory post to social media and leave it at that. I normally don't attend ceremonies or pour one out for the homies. I pretty much keep to myself, and try to stay off social media. I do still take a moment to remember them though which is why I'm writing this.
As you can probably tell by now, my overall thoughts on the subject of Memorial Day have changed as the years have passed. I don't get angered by the trivial things anymore. Retail sales, weekend travel, spending time with friends and family. In fact, I'd like to think that my friends who are no longer with us would want us to be happy. They'd want us to celebrate and continue our lives.
I think they are right too. We can both celebrate what we have and honor their lives and memories.
Gone but never forgotten:
Robb Hewett - A man who always put his soldiers first. His love for the Broncos (and disdain for my Seahawks) went unparalleled and football season hasn't been the same without you.
Mickel Garrigus - When I was lost and in a new place, you were a friendly and familiar face that welcomed me back into my Army family. For that, I am forever grateful.
Joe Fenty - The most selfless, humble, and kind hearted leader I had ever known. You took time to know your soldiers and you always put their needs and that of your unit before your own. Thank you for showing me what real honest-to-goodness leadership looks like.
Blair Emery - I didn't know you very well from our time in Iraq, but I do remember you as a funny and light-hearted guy. Your memory continues to live on as we drink in your name, a bottle or can of that god-awful and super sweet Moxie soda you liked so much.
Michael Dick - A man not afraid to tell you like it is and who liked to clown around. I didn't know you very well, but you are tough one to forget.
Michael Murphy - A young soldier who worked hard and had great aspirations that he was never able to fulfill. I wish there was something I could have done to change things for you. It's been 20 years since you unexpectedly left us, but I haven't forgotten you.
May you all rest in peace.