Q: This spring I've started to realize that, sadly, our family has allowed Memorial Day to become nothing more than a day to celebrate the onset of summer (and eat too much). Even though our kids are fairly young, I want to help them understand what this holiday is truly about. How can we recapture its significance?
Jim: I appreciate your question, because some years I've been guilty myself of being neglectful. Let's all resolve to do better.
While the establishment of Memorial Day as an official holiday was to come later, I think Abraham Lincoln captured its purpose best when he penned these words to his Gettysburg Address:
"It is for us the living... to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion..."
I'll take it a step further by saying that we have more than one million reasons to honor Memorial Day. That's a big number at any time. But Memorial Day is the occasion when we specifically remember more than one million Americans who have died in war on behalf of us all.
That figure is astounding by itself. But it's even more sobering when you reflect on this: Behind every number is a name, and behind every name is a family whose entire world changed forever because that soldier didn't come home. Every number represents the loss of a husband, a son, a brother -- or, in some cases, a wife, a daughter, a sister. Factor in those intangibles, and the sense of loss is almost too staggering to comprehend.
That's why it's so important for us to remember -- and teach our children -- what Memorial Day really means. It's about honoring the memory of men and women who gave up their lives so we all could carry on with ours in freedom. We can't let all of that get cheapened into nothing more than an extra day off of work, a fun day at the lake, or hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill.
I'd suggest some of these ideas for commemorating the day as a family:
Attend a Memorial Day ceremony and/or place flowers on the gravesite of a fallen soldier.
Write letters of gratitude and remembrance to someone who has lost a loved one in service to our country.
If you know (or can meet) a service veteran -- a family member or an acquaintance through church or another venue -- take your children to see that person and listen carefully to whatever experiences he or she is willing to share.
Watch an age-appropriate movie or TV program that thoughtfully presents the struggles and sacrifices of our servicemen and women.
Make an American-themed dessert and host someone mourning the loss of their loved one.
Fly the colors. Take time to learn about the history of the flag and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
This Memorial Day, as we think of the liberties we're so blessed to enjoy, let's ask God to protect our troops who currently stand in harm's way and to comfort the families who long for their safe return. But let's also reflect on those one million men and women and the sacrifice they made. As the saying goes, "Freedom isn't free." It was bought with the blood of our soldiers who deserve our gratitude and solemn remembrance.
Finally, to those who have ever served in any of the military branches -- thank you.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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