OPINION — Save some time for solace this Memorial Day
As Benjamin Franklin walked out of Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, an elder woman approached him and asked, “Well doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” To which he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
For me, Memorial Day presents a moment to reflect on that republic.
My father died serving our country when I was 14. It remains a seminal moment in my life that I once struggled to move past and continue to struggle to properly contextualize. He was born on May 25. The proximity of Memorial Day and his birthday often give cause for me to meditate on the values professed in the creation of this republic.
The idea that elected representatives would debate and make the laws is essential to uphold that republic. But what happens when democratic populism overruns our elected body and the explosion of digital media allows those that would divide us to weaponize every disagreement into vitriolic tribalism? Common ground ceases to be a goal, and the noise emanating from the different tribes becomes too loud to avoid.
But you can unplug for a little bit. We can detach our cerebral cortex from the mainframe of chaos and let it wander with reflective purpose amidst the grandeur of our wilderness and waterways. It’s a choice I make every Memorial Day. To honor my father and to honor the country he died in service to, I often seek out a moment of solace on this federal holiday.
The origins of Memorial Day can be found in the hallowed ground of the American Civil War. Decoration Day was established by an organization of Union veterans as a time to decorate the graves of the casualties of that war. Later, the competing Union and Confederate holidays were combined into Memorial Day, so that all who had died in military service would be honored and remembered.
But as I say every year, there is no reason that a few moments of solemn remembrance and reflection should preclude you from having fun. And I plan on having some fun with my family on this Memorial Day. I just believe we are capable of holding more than one thought at a time. To quote my once 4-year-old daughter, “I can think two different thinks at the same time. I can think that frozen strawberries might be too hard to bite, and I can think that frozen strawberries can be soft enough to bite.”
Now, I’m not suggesting we should all debate the merits of frozen versus unfrozen fruit. But I believe it would benefit us all to find that one window of time, amidst the revelry, to reflect upon the sacrifice that men and women like my father have made. Then reflect upon the reason why.
Did they do it just for one group or another? Did they do it with one political group in mind over another? No. They did it for all of us. They did it for faith, family, friends and fellow citizens.
This country contains more than 320 million citizens, each possessed of a multifaceted belief system. You do not have to accept some tribal label that narrowly defines your complex morality.
Yes, this republic can get messy. Yes, we have some chaotic battles in this culture of democracy. Yes, we have not yet achieved all the ideals that were dreamed or written upon the creation of this country. But people have signed up to defend those ideals. People have died in service to the promise of those principles. Let’s take a moment to reflect upon the ideals we profess to embody and the direction we wish to take this country in order to achieve them.
Turn off your TV. Turn off talk radio. Step away from your screens. Go paddling. Swim the rivers. Wade in the ocean. Find time to get out and reflect. Let the water wipe clean the dirt and mud this world seems intent on slinging, and re-emerge next week, ready to bring a little sunshine and purposeful duty back to the republic.
Let us remember that we are one, a united country, and will not be so easily divided as our foreign adversaries would desire. Let’s seek inspiration from our communities, where there is no hate for those of differing political opinion, just neighbors with whom we respectfully disagree. Let us inspire our federal government to throw off the yoke of hyper-partisanship and instead adopt the practical, problem solving ethos of our local governing bodies.
Let us try, earnestly, to keep this republic we so covet.
That is how I plan to honor my father.
Salute on this Memorial Day weekend.
Brian Vincent is a member of the Farmville Town Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.