May 29, 2023

Please Don’t Say Happy Memorial Day.

This is a weird weekend holiday.

Memorial Day is not a celebration.

It is not about picnics and sales. It is not the start of summer. It is about honoring those who lost their lives while serving in the military. It is not a day for thanking living military personnel for their service. That is Veterans’ Day. Please don’t wish people a Happy Memorial Day. Old habits die hard, I know.

I am embarrassed to say that when I was a young child, as I saw my parents flying the stars and stripes from a mount near our garage as they did on Memorial Day and July 4th and planting mini flags in our front garden, I thought of Memorial Day as a happy day and made up a little song about it.

My mother gently corrected me and told me the true meaning of the day.

I grew up singing songs of peace, penned by Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Peter, Paul and Mary. I was a second generation hippie (born in 1958) who was too young to attend Woodstock. I have envisioned a world in which peace prevailed on Earth. I have marched for peace and equal rights. I am a social justice advocate.

There are no safe ways to have missiles pointed at anyone. There are no acceptable losses. Every life lost on any “side” was someone’s child, parent, sibling, partner, or friend. A few months ago I had a dream in which I had joined a group of adults and children hunkered down in an apartment that was under attack from the air. As bombs were falling, not only did we not hide in the dark, but instead, each of us held up a candelabra and invoked the idea of surrounding ourselves in a bubble of protection. As we held the lights aloft, the bubble rose, like the soft top of a convertible, over us. The bombing stopped and sunlight streamed in through the windows. No surprise that one of the people in the dream was my friend Dr. Yvonne Kaye who had survived the Blitzkrieg in London during WWII when she was a child. Back then, she did indeed hide in a room, tiny gas mask on her face, until the bombing ceased.

Now, nearing 90, she has worked for many decades with veterans who proudly served but also who bear the emotional scars that war inflicts.

I am a peacemonger who does support the troops. The best way I know to do that is to bring them home safely and not send anyone ever again. I don’t glorify war and sometimes I know it is necessary—WWII in particular. I don’t like the idea of people being recruited to be cannon fodder. I think about the last scene of “Hair” when the young men were transported to Vietnam only to die there. I think about those who came home from war wounded emotionally. As a therapist, I have treated vets with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and wonder if they would still have signed up if they knew this would be the outcome.

My father, who was a Navy veteran in WWII, raised a pacifist who ascribes to the words of Yoda,

“Wars not make one great.”

My prayers and thoughts to those whose loved ones didn’t return, gratitude to those who did, as well as those who choose to dedicate themselves to service. Let’s see them all come home safely.


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