What have I given,
Bold sailor on the sea,
In earth or heaven,
That you should die for me?
What can I give,
O soldier, leal and brave,
Long as I live,
To pay the life you gave?
What tithe or part
Can I return to thee,
O stricken heart,
That thou shouldst break for me?
The wind of Death
For you has slain life’s flowers,
(God grant) all weeds in ours.
I have not always understood the true purpose of Memorial Day. That is not to say that I take for granted the purpose of this holiday; rather, I was one who wished people a “Happy Memorial Day” and thanked veterans for their service. And that is not to say that I am not thankful; rather, I was missing the point – Memorial Day is for the fallen, those who we must remember, those whose memory we must keep alive, even though they are not.
And yet my mind still goes to the living – those soldiers who came home from war alive. I’ve always heard that war changes you, and I do not take those words lightly. I’ve met countless veterans over the years whose families say that the way they are now is not the way they’ve always been. I’ve met veterans themselves who have said that the wars they fought changed them on the outside and the inside.
I wholly agree that Memorial Day is for the fallen, and do not wish to debate this. But I would also submit to you that perhaps Memorial Day is also for the living who did not come back in one piece. Perhaps they left an arm or a leg on foreign soil; or perhaps they left a happy and carefree person, and have come back unsure, scared, and feeling alone. No matter the change, there is a piece of that person that was left on the battlefield. There is a piece of that person missing, a piece of that person has died.
I will spend this day reflecting as I always have – honoring the fallen, thanking them silently for their sacrifice, and bearing a sadness I cannot describe that it is only one day a year we have set aside to do this. I will reflect on poems as that one above, thankful for the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their life so that I can sit here and write this.
And yet a part of me will also mourn those who are still living, those who have lost pieces of themselves – physical and mental pieces – to wars that they fought on my behalf. I will silently thank those brave souls as well for doing what I could never do. I will silently mourn the losses they have suffered. Because Memorial Day is for the fallen, and yet the fallen are not all deceased.
The fallen is the veteran who can’t go to a fireworks show because the sound is too much for him to bear. The fallen is the veteran who lost an arm because they encountered a roadside bomb. The fallen is the veteran who shoots straight up in the middle of the night covered in sweat and tears, because the nightmares are just so real. The fallen is the (more than) 22 veterans a day who end their lives because they no longer see hope in their situations.
I will remember all of our nation’s fallen, and continue to be grateful for the sacrifices they made. I will reflect on the love these men and women had for their country – a love so great they were willing to die. This holiday, for me, will always be about honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice; but this year, I will also remember those who have made various other sacrifices, lost parts of themselves, and have been completely and utterly changed by the wars they fought.
With a heavy, and grateful, heart. Thank you, thank you, thank you.