Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Memories

I never got Memorial Day off as an adult, until we moved down here. In South Carolina, Memorial Day was often not celebrated because it started out life as a holiday to honor the Union dead.

I realize that some of you will be saying, "Union dead? The Civil War? That war that happened over 100 years ago?"

Oh, yes. For some folks, that war isn't really over. They celebrate Confederate Memorial Day.

And in terms of state and federal holidays, my community college employers were a bit stingy. We didn't get Presidents' Day off either.

So, it was a joy to move down here and to have the day off. But soon, enough, it felt a bit empty.

I've spent all of my life before moving down here living in places that had a military base in the community--sometimes two or three. Memorial Day has a different flavor in places with a military presence.

And part of me will always be a D.C. area girl. It's hard to move around that area without being aware of the sacrifice that past citizens have given so that I can enjoy my good and happy life. Most people are familiar with the Vietnam Memorial or Arlington National Cemetery, but there are so many other places: memorial sites, statues, plaques.

Now I live in a place that feels more like a future U.S., where English isn't the dominant language, where there are more recent arrivals than people with ancestors buried in the soil. Most days, I'm cool with this, and invigorated by it.

Today, I'd like to be at a national monument, listening to one of the service bands perform. Or maybe I'd rather be in a contemplative spot, saying a thank you.

I'll make my Memorial Day observance by reading poetry. Here's a link to one of my favorites, "Facing It," by Yusef Komunyakaa.

I began my day by reading about this modern day quest, a Vietnam vet who's trying to travel to memorial sites in all 50 states. He blogs about it here.

Reading is such a solitary way to celebrate. But I'm not sure I'm up for a parade, with our sudden shift into summer heat and sun intensity. Later, we'll grill out, and I'll focus on how blessed I am to live in a place where I don't have to fear our military, where I'm free to read what I like and cook what I want and say what I want. I'll try not to think about the oil in the Gulf; I'll try not to think about the start of hurricane season tomorrow. I'll try not to think about the implications of a more active than usual hurricane season colliding with a gushing, uncontained oil well in the deep water of the Gulf. I'll try not to think about me, me, me, and instead focus on gratitude for the service and sacrifice of others.

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