U.S. citizens recognize the last Monday of the month of May as Memorial Day. This is a time of remembrance of those brave souls who offered their lives on the altar of freedom and justice for this country (and yes, even others). Our Memorial Day origins stem, like Mother’s Day, from the post-Civil War period, a schism that left an indelible scar on our national heritage still felt to this day.
We were a nation divided by culture, conviction, ideals, race, and religion.
…And over 150 years later, we still are.
A Christian friend of mine has an interesting theory about the Grand Canyon. He believes that the Grand Canyon, a 277-mile long, one-mile deep crimson fissure in the Mid-Western U.S. landscape, is actually one of many scars which resulted from the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. In other words, our schism with the divine was so intense, so painful, that it actually wounded the earth, leaving massive canyons as scars.
Although I don’t believe it, this neo-mythological explanation of a geographic feature illustrates the nature of our national spirit today. We celebrate Memorial Day with three-day weekends, cook-outs, vacations, parties, and somewhat increased patriotism for good measure, but what or whom are we actually celebrating? Are we honoring those who have died in our defense or are we using this national holiday as an excuse for another round of binge consumerism?
Like Mother’s Day, July 4th, and yes, even Easter, Ramadan, Vesak, or New Year’s, it’s as if we save all of our national/spiritual sentiment for a finite period of time and then pack that seasonal conviction away in some holiday tote at the end until next year.
We suddenly become holier during holy days, more patriotic during national holidays, and more unified during commemorations of national tragedy, but why wait?
Our nation is free, but how are we utilizing that freedom? Do you believe those who died for our rights and freedoms (which extend beyond the military, by the way) want to be honored with 24-hour binge holidays when we mostly get along while we are politically, socially, and religiously at each other’s throats the rest of the year? How can we celebrate the death of those who protected our freedoms when we are actively pursuing legislation which denies the rights and freedoms of others?
I am fortunate to live in a country where I could explore 12 distinct religious/philosophical systems without threat of persecution. I am thankful, so frickin’ thankful, that I live in a place where my spiritual teachers are not in hiding or exile and could teach me freely. We live in a country where we not only have the freedom of religion, but from it as well.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” —Amendment 1 of the United States Constitution
It’s interesting how some believers associate the idea of freedom of religion as the protection of their right to spiritual expression at the expense of others. Every right comes with responsibility. We cannot use our freedoms as weapons of oppression. Our nation’s martyrs did not give their lives for just your freedom, but the freedom of everyone here–including the folks they did not agree with.
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God, not burnt offerings.” –Hosea 6: 6
How many more burnt offerings will we make to the gods of exclusivity, hegemony, hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, greed, racism, and every other social evil before we embrace one another in the spirit of pluralism and camaraderie? With each suppression of rights and freedoms, we bury our nation’s heroes once again. Instead, why not display mercy, love, compassion and acknowledge with wonder our nation’s tapestry of diversity? That is why I began a petition for a National Day of Pluralism to honor and celebrate the diversity of our country, the diversity our warriors, statesmen, and activist lived and died for.
What is the lost art of Memorial Day? It is living out the pleasures and responsibilities of our freedoms everyday and ensuring that our nation’s martyrs did not die in vain. It is time to heal the national scar that continues to rip us apart, and it begins with you on a daily basis. How will you honor your freedoms and those of others?
Jai Vita and remember to Believe Responsibly.