I don’t remember the exact date (or more specifically the exact year) that a certain high school girl angered me to the point that my wife had to calm me down but it was probably ten or eleven years ago. We were at a mall in Florida, on Memorial Day, perusing the fantastic deals that occur every Memorial Day and enjoying some lunch.
Standing in line behind a teenaged girl and her mother, I didn’t hear what sparked this girl’s reply but I definitely heard what SHE said.
“Oh come on, Mom. It’s only Memorial Day, not a REAL holiday like Christmas.”
Even though I don’t necessarily sleep in any Captain America underoos, her words instantly struck a nerve. Obviously this girl had no idea (or maybe just didn’t care) about all the lives lost in service (military, police/law enforcement, AND firefighters) over the last couple centuries.
John 15:13 states, quite simply, that “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I think you could concede this point, whether you are a Believer or not. Even though the politicians who send men and women to war believe in a bigger picture, the true “boots on the ground” are mainly interested in covering their hind ends and watching out for their buddies. The sense of pride they take in their work will never be understood by the politicians who choose to use them as strategic game pieces on a board, easily disconnected from afar.
I think what angered me so much about this girl’s flippant statement was the amount of disrespect inherent in her words and her tone. Not a “real holiday”? Is that what our young people look at Memorial Day as now? Is that what we ADULTS have started looking at it as too? A day off from work full of cold drinks and warm grills? I hope not. As much as I enjoy those things as a byproduct of a national holiday, the true meaning has been lost on a lot of people. Maybe not entirely lost, but perhaps muddled amongst all the celebration and socializing.
I stumbled across Carry The Load the other day and was immediately interested in how I could help. The nearest event they were hosting was almost two hours away, however. My initial contact with them was to ask if they had any plans to host one nearer to Tucson. After firing off the message, I got to looking more at their site and how they were breaking down their events, trying to see how I could fit into the bigger picture. I was unsure what level of sacrifice would be enough to show my support. The main site talks about a twenty hour and fourteen minute relay, the significance being this year’s numerical designation.
How could I, as a semi in-shape dude, pitch in? Twenty minutes and fourteen seconds? No, not enough. Maybe 2.14 miles? No, still not out of my comfort zone. How about 201.4 miles? Well, that’s ambitious but a bit lofty on such short notice. Hmmm. Well I’ve done two half marathons and a couple of Tough Mudders, so distance doesn’t necessarily scare me. Walking just over twenty miles seemed to be a perfect amount to make me uncomfortable but not injure me. I could do that without a ton of preparation. Would it be painful? Most likely. Would it be too much to handle? Nah, probably not.
Here’s what I think. Words, even the most well-meant of them, can begin to ring hollow if there’s no action behind them. How many times have you known someone who was dealing with the loss of someone close to them? What do you say to them? I’m sorry? Of course you’re sorry, any normal person with a shred of decency is sorry to see others suffer, be it physically or emotionally. If you’re not personally affected by the loss, it’s quite a bit simpler to move on with your life but for the person (or people) with the hole in their heart, they don’t have it so easy.
The oddest thing about grieving is the fact that there is no standard feel to it. There is no way to quantify grief, no cookie cutter value to each person’s grief. Someone may NEVER fully recover from the loss of someone so important in their life, while another person may carry a memory and be perfectly ok within only a short time period. As much as we would hope to help those who grieve, it’s a journey that they must make as an individual. Being surrounded by the love of others helps for sure, but the only one who knows if they are truly ok is the one going through the process. Even though we may have the best of intentions, there is (understandably) a point in the grieving person’s life that they don’t want to be reminded of their loss and need to deal with it in their own way, on their own terms. Time doesn’t necessarily “heal” all wounds, but what it does do is numb them and blur the memories to some degree, easing the pain when they come up again.
When you get the feeling that maybe you’ve done all you can to help, sometimes taking a step back to allow the person to breathe and yourself to reevaluate where you may be needed is the best thing.
That being said, I think what I can do to help those lost in the service of protecting others (the “sheepdogs” if you will) is to make a tangible sacrifice. Now a few minutes or hours of physical discomfort will in no way match the sacrifices made by those who have lost life or limb, but it is something more concrete than the usual “oh of course I appreciate the sacrifices made”. I hope it’s obvious that it is not my intention to belittle any of these words if they are genuine when they leave someone’s mouth. My only observation is that words, at a certain point, become so abstract and overused that they become bereft of any significant meaning (see the majority of politicians on both parties and their persistent use of media friendly buzz words).
All of these ramblings aside, I think I can honor veterans and public servants who have lost life or limb by strapping a pack on my back and going for a walk. When I’m done, I will most likely have a cold drink and something from the grill. I want to be sure that my head is in the right place first though.
Sweat stinging my eyes, tongue dry in my mouth, and blisters on my feet are all reminders that I’m still here and still capable of giving more.
It is our obligation, as the still living, to help remember the dead just as we hope to be remembered by those of us left when we pass from this world to the next.
UPDATED TO ADD MY FUNDRAISING LINK