Who do you remember on Memorial Day? Is it a friend or a relative? A grandparent or child? The day honors the memory of all who have died in service of our country. Yet, we each old precious individual memories. Who we remember tells us a lot about ourselves.
The person I think about every year is my grandfather.
I think about him on many occasions, but Memorial Day is poignant because serving in World War II helped defined who he was. It was the first time he left his native Milwaukee. It was the first time he worked in a hospital. It was the time he made the closest friends of his life.
His service taught me lesson that resonate every day.
1. We are lucky to be alive: Whenever I told him what a hero he was, my grandfather would tell the real heroes are the ones who died. He had immense gratitude for his life, and he did not take it for granted. Tears welled in his eyes when he spoke of his ship that barely made it back to the United States as it sailed through waters filled with German submarines. Those of us who have never served in the military sometimes need to be reminded of how much gratitude we owe those who have given their lives for our country.
2. We gain satisfaction from serving something larger than ourselves: My grandfather knew why he was in battle. To stop Hitler, to save lives and to protect the United States. It was not for glory. It was not for metals. It was for other people. Every study on happiness and finding meaning in life echoes my grandfather’s experience. Happiness comes from helping others.
3. Gratitude is the greatest tribute we can give: Thorton Wilder put it eloquently: “All that we can know about those we have loved and lost is that they would wish us to remember them with a more intensified realization of their reality. What is essential does not die but clarifies. The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.”
I am struck by that line: “What is essential does not die but clarifies.” When we remember someone, we remember what was central to them. We remember their character, their hopes, their dreams. Our lives become a living memorial to them.
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