My kids are incorrigible. Every holiday they are looking for crafts and activities and answers to why we celebrate a particular holiday. It’s quite exhausting really. But what once started as a whim to make a point to my oldest has now become my favorite tradition and it all centers around Memorial Day.
It has been 50 years since the United States conscripted servicemen into service via a draft. My children and I have been blessed to not only live in the freest country in the world, but to be protected by an all volunteer military. Unbelievable, really when you think about it. And the last thing I wanted was for my children (or myself for that matter) to lose sight of the sacrifice of others, of the true cost of the freedom we so easily take for granted. So a few years ago as I decked my kids out in cute red, white and blue outfits, as we packed up the car to join family out at the lake for the long weekend, I wondered what they would take away from this weekend. Just the pick up games of baseball, the brats and cheeseburgers, dipping their toes in the still relatively cold water of a Wisconsin lake? I wanted them to experience and cherish every one of those experiences, but I didn’t want that to be all they did or thought about that weekend. So after a weekend grilling out and out on the lake, I bring them home early on Sunday night. And we spent the Monday morning of our long weekend at the local cemetery.
The cemetery is only a few blocks from our house, in the middle of busy streets, up on a hill overlooking the beautiful Fox River. We’ve come to know it well, but my children protested the visit – “it’s too hot”, “I’m tired”, “why did we have to come home early?” “Because,” I say, “it’s time to pay our respects and remember why we aren’t at school or at work today. And to remember why we get to grill and play baseball and enjoy the sunshine. It’s because of men and women that paid the ultimate price. That willingly died to make sure you didn’t have to.”
The cemetery is littered with small American flags, placed next to the grave stones of every service member buried there. Not all these brave men and women gave their lives on the battlefield, but, as I remind the kids, they were still willing to. Memorial Day is a day to remember those who paid the ultimate price, but God calls us to pray for all those who have died, so why not? We walk the aisles, read the names, the branch, and the conflict of those with a flag next to their stone. We’ve found service members who served in the Civil War through Vietnam and in every branch of the service. We wonder aloud what their lives must have been like, what they must have seen in their time here on Earth, and pray for them and their families. After the first visit, my oldest asked if we could do it every year. After the next year, his little sister asked if they could help put out the flags. We haven’t missed a yearly visit since we started six years ago.
Among the works of mercy is praying for the dead, and although I always thought that I’m more of a “clothe the naked” (I have clothes to donate!) and “feed” the hungry” (who doesn’t love organizing a good food drive?) kind of girl, I’m really happy I’ve also added “pray for the dead” to the list of works of mercy my family and I practice. We extend this mercy through every day of our lives – praying for the souls of the faithful departed every time we drive past a cemetery or praying for deceased loved ones at bedtime – but Memorial Day can be a particularly poignant time to remember those who have served in this lifetime and welcome our prayers in the hereafter.