On May 30, our city, and many cities around the country held ceremonies and hosted parades to commemorate those who died while in service to America. Speeches were made. Picnics were held. A day off from work was given. The next day, we all returned to work and school and the other activities we normally do each day.
In my Journal article last month, I chose not to include any mention of Memorial Day because I wanted to put some distance between what we all did on the “holiday” and what we typically do in our everyday lives after the solemnity of the day itself fades. We often hear that “freedom is not free.” We know it means that men and women died to protect our ability to remain a free country, but as citizens how do we protect it and show our gratitude for it all year long through our words and deeds?
In our country today, as in many periods of our nation’s history, people have strong opinions about what is right or wrong in regard to a myriad of issues. At times, it creates division between friends and family because people have such different ideas when, understandably, their life experiences have helped to form their opinions. Despite the discomfort that can accompany such debates, I am grateful for those discussions because that is exactly the type of freedom for which our ancestors died. Will we always agree? Of course we won’t, but if don’t protect one another’s right to think and say and believe in whatever they choose, we do not truly honor and thank those we remember each year on Memorial Day.
Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Starting about 250 years ago, men and women have been giving their lives because they believed in all of us and our right to speak freely, to make choices based on our beliefs, and to act as our heart and conscience directs us, even if we are vehemently in opposition to another’s ideals. As Americans, we know that it is a privilege to be free. But more importantly, it is a responsibility we must protect and defend each and every day, not just on Memorial Day. It is so much more than parades, and speeches, and picnics. If we really want to make our fallen heroes proud and show them that their sacrifices were not in vain, let’s celebrate them each and every day by respecting one another’s right to speak freely and make choices about issues we each care about. If we do that, we have we truly shown our appreciation for our ability to be “free.” ∞