Good Memorial Day!
My seven-year-old loves Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” with its chorus:
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know
What you’ve got
Til it’s gone
This Memorial Day, it feels like a lot of what we’ve got is now gone.
Did we appreciate it enough? What we had just a few short months ago?
We had the strongest labor market of our lifetimes, perhaps the best economy too. We’d been at peace for more than a decade. The world was producing fascinating wonders — self-driving cars, the total of all knowledge available at our fingertips, the ability to speak with anyone on the planet, anywhere, anytime.
We lived in a time that every person in history before us would have traded places in an instant. For many of them, it would’ve seemed an incredible utopia.
Were we sufficiently grateful for it all?
We can look back on January and wonder at the trivial things we let consume us. Why did we spend so much time clutching after things that don’t matter? Why were we fools, taking our good fortune for granted?
And so, our Good Luck ran out.
This Memorial Day, a plague has killed more than 100,000 Americans and Canadians in just two months. The horrible tragedy has transformed us from fools into solemn, serious prisoners in our own communities.
The superficial distractions of January have fallen away, and they’ve been replaced in our lives.
Family, faith, friends, all seem more meaningful now that “what we’ve got is gone.”
But still, this Memorial Day, let us be thankful. We have been taught a lesson of loss. Let us take from it a lesson in gratitude.
For what can you be thankful today?
The kids sleeping safely in bed. The internet working. Zoom calls with friends.The backyard grill. The beginning of summer.
Perhaps you can start with the smallest thing you have to be thankful for, and give thanks for it. And then the next smallest, and the next, and the next…
And maybe you can allow your entire day to fill with joy for the small things – the smell of cut grass, the twinkle of your spouse, your kid being a buffoon, the sound of your parent’s voice – too distant over a video call but heard nonetheless – and the taste of the perfect burger you just now pulled off the grill. And that while you’re thanking that bite of a burger, eyes closed, face in the sun, beer at hand, you’ll remember the intention of today…
This Memorial Day, we can feel gratitude for our veterans of a different war.
Our armed forces take an oath to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic. This Memorial Day of 2020, I suppose we should add to that Honor Roll those who defend us against enemies microscopic.
We can be tremendously grateful to the nurses and doctors (and hospital janitors and ER desk staff) who have gone to war this very morning.
I can’t imagine the feeling or the fear they experienced in lacing their shoes this Memorial Day morning, knowing what they know about this killing disease. Seeing that their colleagues are dying, prevention is imperfect, and that every day may be the day their
Good Luck runs out.
I can’t imagine any word to adequately describe that person who ties their shoes and stands up straight and walks out their front door and into a hospital today to do their job. I can’t imagine any word other than hero.
It’s probably the bravest thing we’ll see in our lifetimes.
This Memorial Day let’s make ourselves a promise to never take it all for granted again. Let’s get down on bended knee and make a bargain — this time, we promise it’ll be different. When our incredible utopia returns, we won’t squander our great gifts, we won’t fritter our talents and time on trifles, we won’t pursue the meaningless amusements of January.
But, sadly, we’re human.
When this has passed, we’ll most likely go right back to our foolishness, pettiness, and ingratitude.
But also, wonderfully, we’re human.
And we learn.
Maybe this time can be different.
Maybe this time we can be inspired by the nurses, and doctors, and janitors. By their heroism. By their duty. By their example.
And in addition to their example, we can be inspired by all of those who made our utopia possible. We can take from this Memorial
Day a reminder that the great good fortune we have is due to the men and women who fought our wars over the past 250 years.
They too, got up in the morning and laced their boots to face an uncertain fate at dawn.
They will always be our heroes.
Yes, thankfully, we are human. And we can learn from our heroes.
Your part in honoring them this Memorial Day – our duty to them this Memorial Day – is to be grateful for what they’ve won for us.
If we succeed at that, dear Readers, then this Memorial Day – despite its plague and its isolation and its quarantine and its year of lean following our years of plenty – this Memorial Day will have been worth it.