I was cold turkey on blogging all weekend for a much needed respite from the internet, and some good quality time with my family – we tried to light a fire when we went day camping yesterday, but it was raining and everything was wet, and the plume of smoke I conjured was not enough to warm us – so I wasn’t able to say anything yesterday in memory of our fallen soldiers.
Memorial Day is one of the more obviously looked over holidays. Christmas, of course, has become Presents Day, and Easter has become Chocolate Bunny Day, but the 4th of July and Thanksgiving are still fairly well celebrated as they were intended. And Easter and Christmas have priests and pastors to remind us of their significance, even if schools have seen the usurpation of Christ’s birth and death by that odd couple Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Secularists and Evangelists now clash over what was once just a Christmas pageant. The irony of secularization is the reactionary religiosity that rises in its wake.
But I digress. The point is that a holiday with as ambiguous a name as “Memorial Day” has no Church service to remind us of its purpose, no alternative title (think Independence Day) to remind us of its meaning, and comes just when the weather is getting nice, and people are eager to shuffle off winter’s coils and grill up some red meat. And so it has become the three day weekend of basketball and barbecues – both fine things in their own right, of course, but not really the sort of things which call to mind the sacrifices of our military men and women. Hordes of Phoenicians flood my own stomping grounds, filling up the more obvious camping spots, turning the town into a traffic jam, jam-packing the restaurants. Lots of people go see movies. The air is filled with the sounds of merry-making and the scent of cooked meat.
None of which is wrong in the least, but it is also not really the atmosphere one associates with a memorial of our fallen heroes. How such a celebration might look is beyond me. I suppose in heathen times it was likely a big fire, lots of mead, and a human sacrifice or two. Throughout history and across the world, fallen warriors have always been celebrated with a mixture of revelry and mourning, that strange dynamic necessary to at once admit of a tragedy – War – and also to gild over that tragedy, to glamorize it to some degree, because war is necessary and will always be with us, and if that is the case then so too are soldiers, and even more so the death of soldiers. We cannot mourn those deaths the same as we mourn the deaths of others, because they are martyrs to Mars, and their deaths are used as much to inspire new recruits as to provide cautionary tales. This is the way it has always been.
And so our veterans and those who never came back are given pretty speeches at baseball games, moments of silence, and the hickory smoke of barbecue fires. This is the way it was meant to be. There is nothing wrong with it. But it does make you wonder if somehow there is too much mead and not enough human sacrifice going into this last holiday of the Spring. Perhaps we have placed too much emphasis on the act of holiday itself rather than on the timbers which went into its construction. Once upon a time holidays were both days of revelry and days of remembrance. The one without the other seems bacchanalian and hollow. Forgetting our history, or ignoring it, is not a tribute to those who fought and died for us.
Then again, at least we are not obligated to buy each other presents.