A Memorial Day Reflection
Americans are not a festive people.
Here in the United States, we have nearly total freedom to live as we wish: in the city, in the suburbs, on the water, in the mountains. “Personal space” is practically a human right here. With hundreds of television channels and video games and myriad websites at my disposal, I could spend my entire life inside my house and never get bored.
Holidays, however, are community events. Families reunite for Thanksgiving. Towns gather on the Fourth of July to marvel at fireworks. In each city I visited last year, Christmas lights were everywhere, and the massive tree in Lisbon’s town square made the season for me.
Spain is inclined toward spontaneous festivity. Saturday mornings are for weddings; marching bands roll through the streets to wake people up for Mass on Sunday; every time I visited the neighborhood park, a crowd of people was there commemorating something or other. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the daily celebrations for patron saints, including the hundred different iterations of the Virgin Mary.
I don’t mean to rip my country. Our way of life lends itself to a more diverse society with a fascinating number of subcultures. (Just look at comic book fandom.) If each person is content to keep to himself, he can forget the reason for the holiday entirely, as I’m sure many citizens forgot about our honorable dead today. Festivals also bring the community together: under the fireworks, the stranger looks less strange. I believe holidays serve an even more fundamental purpose than that. What if every day were exactly the same as the one before it, with nothing to remember or celebrate? Isn’t that the definition of depression?
Finally, I should offer some words for our fallen soldiers. One of the tragedies of humanity is that so many of its young men have died as conscripts, seized from their families to die in some windswept corner of the world for their lords’ territorial ambitions. Even our religious leaders, from Pope Julius II to Mohammed, have wagered and lost others’ lives in the game of thrones. It is a testament to our country’s nobility that our armed forces are made up entirely of volunteers and that in the most of the places they have fallen – Bull Run, France, Vietnam, Iraq – they have done so protecting the lives and freedom of others. We are lucky to live in a place where the price of a life is so high. Our soldiers are not perfect, and our generals are sometimes too incompetent to deserve them, but on balance, no organization does more to protect freedom in this world than the United States military. I am in its debt.
Our soldiers are men who, when they hear of their distant comrades who have died in battle, regret that they were not in the trenches fighting alongside them. If the average American had this simple yet fierce love for his own family members, let alone the rest of his community, this country would be an utterly different place. Cheers to our sword and shield.