Memorial Day. People know it as the unofficial start of summer. The weather is warmer and it seems everyone flocks to beaches, lakes, and other destinations to enjoy family, friends, and, of course, a good BBQ. The majority of workers get Monday off, and the long weekend is a nice break reprieve from long hours at the office.
But, it should go without saying that the weekend and the day represent something greater. The meaning that should be attached to this weekend cannot be overstated. In fact, it needs to be amplified, but not through discounts and store sales. On the other hand, it should be a time for people to ask, “Who do I know that put on the uniform and swore an oath to defend this country and its constitution.” If the answer is no one, then the next question is “How can I meet such a person?”
Remember that this day is about honoring those that made the ultimate sacrifice for this great country. Their sacrifice should never be forgotten. We also thank and celebrate those who continue to serve and have served.
My suggestion for people looking to embrace the spirit of Memorial Day is to take the time to talk with a veteran or someone currently service. I am not suggesting you need to simply thank them for their service. While saying “thank you” is a fine and respectful gesture, I can say personally that it means more to talk to someone and genuinely listen to them.
Ask a veteran about their experience. Perhaps they are willing to share. Most are willing. If they are, then listen. What does listening mean? It means taking an interest in what the veteran is saying and relating to you. Why am I saying what seems to be obvious? Because the fact is that most people can’t listen to veterans without trying to interject their own personal history into the conversation. For example, if a veteran says, “I was in the Marine Corps.” Chances are that the person they are talking to will start to rack their brain to think of someone that they know in the Marine Corps. Most veterans know exactly what I am talking about.
In my personal experience, conversations that I have with non-veterans usually start with “What did you do? Thank you for your service.” However, most of the time, the other person takes the conversation and starts to talk about the people they know or how they wished they served. I believe that it is well meaning. Most people are trying to find some solidarity and common ground. They are trying to relate. But, if you’re not a veteran and you’ve been doing that then I suggest that you tone it down a notch.
Again, veterans are generally very respectful and humble people. They served and they understand that service has sacrifices. For my part, I knew that serving was not going to be easy. When I got out of active service, it wasn’t any easier. Making a transition to civilian life is tough and a lot of veterans struggle for many reasons. My suggestion to non-veterans who want to establish solidarity and common ground with a veteran is to do them the service of just listening. By listening and trying to understand, you will be greatly serving those that served. In some cases, you will learn something. Ask questions too. Again, most veterans would love to talk and share their experiences.
I find that bridging the civilian-military divide is an important duty that needs to be done in our great country. But, both sides need to work on it. When attempting to bridge the divide, veterans need to be given the platform to speak. After all, they represent a small portion of the population.
America is the greatest country in the world. Is it perfect? Not always. But, we have an amazing constitution, a powerful economy, and even more powerful military comprised of awesome people. It is thanks to the service and sacrifice of so many people that we are able to live in this great nation and enjoy the liberties that we have. Everyone can do their part to say thanks by having a conversation and listening to those who served.