Before you chomp into that extra crispy drumstick, consider this: It’s a day of sorrow
In the U.S.A, on the last Monday in the month of May, we take a day to remember — to remember all the men and women who have died while serving in our country’s armed forces. Monday is Memorial Day — and it’s a day of sorrow.
A white cross = a life unfinished
In my hometown, the week before Memorial Day, the local government posts along the side of main roads hundreds of white crosses. Each cross proudly flying an American flag and a name.
There are souls from every major war that America has fought in: Iraq (2003); Desert Storm or Gulf War (1991); Vietnam (1955); Korean (1950); WWII (1939); and WWI (1914).
I’ve even seen a few crosses with names from the Spanish-American War (1898).
And, get this, there’s even one from the Civil War (1861).
This tribute of white crosses is lovely — and I look forward to it every year.
But what are we celebrating?
Hint: It’s not just a 3-day weekend.
We gather. We gobble saucy ribs and extra crispy chicken with a side of coleslaw. We guzzle soft drinks and beer. And then, we finish it all with something sweet and frosted in red, white, and blue.
Jolly times, eh?!
But I can’t help wondering how many of us appreciate the enormity of the losses and sacrifices this day represents, especially those of us whose lives and hearts have not been ripped asunder by this type of loss.
Stop. Consider. Bow.
As I drive about town running this or that errand, I see people speeding by in their vehicles, living their lives, and seeming not to notice the white crosses, each a representation of a soul that died in this or that war.
But I feel compelled to slow down, to pause, and to try impossibly to read every name on every cross. (Hey, you in the vehicle behind me, stop honking your horn.) I even try to put faces to and imagine stories to some. For example:
- There are three white crosses with the surname of Laurin. Oh, how did Mother Laurin’s heart ever bear it?! Did she lose her boys all at once or one heartbreak at a time?! Did she mourn for her grandbabies that would never be?!
- What about Elmer W. Fuller, Sr.?! Did the love of his life collapse even before the two uniformed, death notification officers uttered, “We regret to inform you that your husband Sargent Elmer W. Fuller, Sr. was…?!” Was there a little girl or little boy waiting anxiously for daddy to come home and play?!
- And over there are four Murphy’s. Did they look alike?! Were their eyes light or dark?! Were they close or did they fight like brothers sometimes do?! Did they have girls who dreamed dreams of them and longed for their safe return home?!
You may ask why fixate on a white cross with a name. Well, let me tell you why:
Because each cross bears the name of a once upon a time someone — like me, like you. Someone whose story is forever unfinished, because they died too young, too brutally in a senseless war.
They were once a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, a husband or a wife, a father or a mother, or even an unfulfilled dream of love for some girl or boy.
They had their own hopes, their own dreams, their own fears. And, whatever their story, they had enormous courage. They braved the pit of hell and lost. We lost.
So on Memorial Day, gather, eat, and make merry, but also consider the losses and sacrifices made by others:
- the parent who has lost a child;
- the daughter whose father will never walk her down the aisle;
- the son who will never know the warm, unconditional love of his mother; or
- the widow who must go on without the love of her life.
These human stories lost are the victims of the soulless, gruesome murderer that is war and the men who start them. And these unfinished lives sacrificed and lost are at the heart of Memorial Day.
UPDATED on May 28, 2021.