For so many, Memorial Day has become the unofficial gateway to the summer season. Perhaps this year it feels even more like that.
Holiday events in 2020 were, for the most part, completely interrupted. With the growing number of fully vaccinated adults, plus the ever-evolving guidelines from the CDC about what people and businesses can and can’t do, this Memorial Day looks to set records as people are desperate to get out and to get away from the walls of their homes.
It’s okay for Memorial Day to be the summoning call for summer. But we must adamantly refuse to allow its true meaning to fade into the background. We must keep in front of us the somber reality that this day is set aside to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country. We must allow that solemnity to stir gratitude within us. We must, through the simple act of remembering, commit ourselves to honor these heroes well.
At 3 p.m. tomorrow, millions of Americans will pause for the National Moment of Remembrance — 60 seconds of silence to remember our fallen military servicemen and women. Those we remember on Memorial Day sacrificed their lives to protect our national values, to safeguard the rights of people to choose their own government; to allow us to live in a society where it’s okay, and even good, to disagree.
One way to honor that sacrifice is by disagreeing well.
It sounds like an oxymoron, I know. But the truth is that our country has allowed this value, the ability to voice an opinion different from those in power and different from our neighbor, to descend into chaos. Our political world is grossly out of control — on both sides of the aisle.
Our inability to respectfully disagree and to allow our disagreements to be the foundation for compromise and change flies in the face of the basic tenets of democratic governing. Instead of our differences driving us to find mutually agreed upon solutions, where each side gives for the better of everyone, our disagreements are now so polarizing that we can’t even talk to one another.
Perhaps this Memorial Day we can honor those who gave their lives protecting these rights we hold so dearly by exercising them in ways that bring us together rather than tear us apart.
The news cycle and the perpetual drama of Washington, D.C. isn’t going to stop for Memorial Day. The headlines will still be full of partisan vitriol thrown back and forth between our increasingly furious political parties. Everything about even this day will somehow be used to gain political leverage. How should people remember? Should they celebrate or mourn? Who has on a mask at a family gathering? Who doesn’t? Given our political climate, the debate over hot dogs versus hamburgers could likely lead us into political dissension.
All of that will be front and center. But it only has power to distract us from the spirit of the day if we let it.
Taking the time to remember is important. In fact, it’s vital. Gratitude and remembrance help us to keep the right things front and center. It reminds us of what we really value. An unimaginable number of our fellow citizens have lost their lives in the pursuit of maintaining a country that stands for liberty and justice for all.
But that is an idea that is constantly undergoing construction. We must not get lazy in our pursuit of America. We cannot fall down on the job by refusing to engage well with one another.
Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at email@example.com.