Flags of celebration and respect to past glories are the dominant theme

Traditional Memorial Day is martial in nature, with marching bands and veterans parading down flag-festooned streets as crowds cheer.  Media incessantly reminds us to remember sacrifices of all the brave people who have defended our way of life.  Slogans such as “freedom is not free” resound through the air. 

I respect the military in our important wars.  Those who fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II did not do so for pensions and fast track into police forces later.  They were not planning a career.  They volunteered _ or were forcibly inducted _ to risk their lives and health into enemy fire and constant tension and disease.  What they did actually changed the way we live now.  Some of our other wars _ Mexican, Spanish-American, Korean, Vietnamese, Gulf _ have been of significantly less consequence.  And our current volunteer army is not much like our troops who fought the Nazi’s and Japanese.

Gold Star Battalion Beach is dedicated to men from Huntington who fought in WWII.

This year is different.  Parades are banned.  Tiny gatherings are allowed at cemeteries which hold the remains of heroes gone.  Perhaps a few of us rethink who our current heroes are or should be _ what occupations and sacrifices are now most important to our way of life.  I wonder moreover if this particular holiday might be remembered as the end of a bygone era from a not too distant, totally changed, future.  Economic and social traditions and bonds are being stretched to and possibly beyond the breaking point.

Eras sneak up on you, with assumptions and an inertia that claims “this is how it is.”  And yet, history proves that eras can end, sometimes slowly, sometimes in a blink.  The American, French, Russian, Chinese revolutions took only a few years.  The Medieval, Renaissance, Industrial, and Computer took longer.  Today, of course, everything runs at warp speed, and possibly the next huge paradigm shifts in culture and civilization will do so as well.  Much can happen in just one year. 

Fog clouds our hopes and fears most densely in the best and worst of times.

Our current era, however many decades or centuries it has lasted, has been one of scientific discovery,  globalization of nature and culture, and massive population growth, some of it accompanied by more goods available.  There has also been severe consolidation of wealth, fragmentation of cultural goals into various fierce ideologies, and massive degradation of the environment.  Reporting of such changes has been practically instantaneous.  Above all, it has been an era dominated by the myth of American exceptionalism and Western capitalistic ideology.  Perhaps this is the moment when the world suddenly realizes, once more, that the emperor has no clothes.

Goods and services have overwhelmed what were once productively silent wetlands.

No matter what historians claim about historic inevitability, nobody in the middle of a revolution can predict its outcome and effects.  That has not stopped modern prognosticators who claim work as we have known it will mutate and vanish, for example.  Visionaries conjure vast economic and social upheavals, some apocalyptic.  I (optimistically) think the only “safe” option here is to plan on the familiar world never quite returning, and possibly being shockingly unrecognizable, in less than five years.

As traditional as it gets, I hope life remains stable for a while longer.

After that, those who have time and energy to remember will no doubt gather at the future equivalent of a Memorial Day.  Toasts will be raised, the world as it once was nostalgically recalled, and (with luck) some kind of celebration held to cheer what came after.

2 thoughts on “Memorial

  1. For me, growing up in the hamlet of Bayville, Memorial Day meant several things…all of them predictable. One of the biggest annual events in town was the Memorial Day parade. Both my parents would march in the local parade. My family, along with most everyone else in the neighborhood would hurry to grab a good spot from which to view the parade on the main street, Bayville Avenue. My dad was Sargent-at-Arms for the local American Legion and my Mom was part of the Women’s Auxiliary for the same. I was always so proud of his trim figure, straight back, handsome face and the big smile he’d flash as he walked by bearing a flag. My mother would saunter along in a group of women all dressed in crisp white blouses, skirts and shoes with poppies pinned to their collars. She always seemed very proud and happy doing this. It was always colder than I hoped it would be and I would stand there shivering in my shorts, wishing for a golden summer day. The parade would end and all the excitement would end with it. Back home to doing nothing in particular, waiting for our parents to return while my friends would (or so I imagined) would be off having fun somewhere I wasn’t allowed to be.


  2. I forgot to state the most important thing about Memorial Day. In later years, my Memorial Day ritual has become visiting my parents’ grave in the Bayville Cemetery. Their grave, like so many others in this cemetery, is distinguished by a special metal ornament indicating my father’s service in WWII in the US Navy.


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