Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State in the 1850s, said “If the country is worth dying for in a time of war, let us ensure that it is worth living for in a time of peace.”
I grew up in an affluent neighborhood in the Bay Area in California–the type of place where people speak of being proud to be Americans, but only because it is a place where they are allowed to live their accustomed lifestyle. But then again, it was also in the 1980s, a time of peace and prosperity when it was easy to say you love this place. Time had healed the bitter sentiments surrounding Vietnam, and we could all be happy dancing in a ring around the sun, so to speak.
I have now seen life further from the Utopian suburbia of my youth than just about anyone there cares to know. The reality, now, is that we are not a country experiencing peace and prosperity. But that shouldn’t make us any less proud.
I am back in my childhood home this weekend, and it got me thinking about what Memorial Day is. I was here to attend my sister’s Bridal Shower–a gathering of women, most of whom I have known from childhood. As the token neighborhood veteran, I always get quite a few “thank you for your service” niceties.
While the sentiments are always appreciated, I am not ultimately the one who should be thanked. It’s the one who didn’t come home–the one who never got to hear a “thank you for your service.” The one who never got to see a yellow ribbon tied around a tree. They found this country worth dying for, so, in their honor make this country worth living for.
We are engaged in what has been called “The Long War.” It may be a long time before we can agree to call our country “at peace.” So make it worth living for now. Honor those who have giving all by living and drinking in the freedoms of this land. Go exercise your right to freedom of speech and religious practice. Be proud of what makes you unique. Speak for the war, against the war, be gay or straight, worship your god. And do in a way worth living — because thanks to those who have died, you can do it freely. Drink this freedom in. And through living life, we can make this country feel at peace.
As for me, right now I’m going for a run. Because that is what my dear friend the late Maj Megan McClung would want to do today.
Happy Memorial Day, God Bless all who have gone, and all who are yet to come.