The beginning of Summer in the United States is neither Beltane nor Summer Solstice but today, the start of the Memorial Day weekend. All across the country, swimming pools will open, there will be cookouts and parades, and Hollywood moves firmly into popcorn movie season. The Indianapolis 500 is Sunday, as is NASCAR’s longest race. If your school isn’t out already it will be shortly. Summer is at hand.
As much as the Nature-centered Pagan in me likes the idea of the whole country celebrating the beginning of Summer, the Community-centered Pagan in me wants to slow down and remember the original purpose of Memorial Day – honoring the men and women who died while serving in the Armed Forces.
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, with both Southerners and Northerners honoring those who died in the Civil War, albeit separately. After the passions of the war began to subside – and after we lost more soldiers in more wars – it became a day to honor all the military dead. It became a common observance nationwide after World War II and its current date was fixed as the last Monday in May by an act of Congress in 1968.
It is right and good to honor those who died fighting for their country. Whether their sacrifice was a valiant contribution to a historic victory or a senseless loss from a political miscalculation, whether they fought on the right side or the wrong side, their goal was the same: to protect the nation. Soldiers do not get to choose when and where and why they fight. May we remember those who died.
It is right and good to remember that although we work for peace and pray for peace, sometimes peace is broken. War is never desirable, but there are times when the alternative is worse. Let us pray that our leaders always know the difference.
For our ancient ancestors, war was a constant possibility, and combat meant hand-to-hand fighting where bloody and painful maiming or death was likely. Yet they marched bravely into battle, assured that if they fought gallantly they would be remembered – their people would sing their songs and tell their tales forever.
Those of us who are the spiritual and in some cases the physical descendants of the Celts and Picts, Danes and Saxons, Spartans and Trojans and countless others: can we do any less for our warriors?
So this weekend, enjoy your barbeques and movies and mark the beginning of Summer in America. I certainly will. But take a moment to honor those who died fighting for our country.
Visit a cemetery.
Say a prayer.
Light a candle.
Pour a libation.
Sing a song.
Tell a story.