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29 May 2006


Bronze_star_1It is Memorial Day in the U.S., a day to remember those men and women who have laid down their lives in the service of our country.

Yet, in the grandest of American traditions, as a nation we mark the day primarily by shopping. Memorial Day sales are legendary; perhaps it's a day better spent hearing the stories of our relatives who have been to war. Just maybe.

Last week, I flew home from New York. On the last leg of my trip, I was deep into self-whining: I've been on the road for weeks, my neck hurts, the flight is late again, would it kill Delta to give me more than peanuts for dinner? It was the Self-Pity Olympics and I was a Gold Medalist.

As I settled in for the last one-hour flight, I was just plain irritated. The air conditioning wasn't working on the plane, people were breathing on me, the cell phone chatter was too loud and personal and intrusive. Poor pitiful me, I thought to myself. Pity, whine, pity, whine, pity, whine more.

And as I sat there in my wholly grumpy self, feeling like the business world's sacrificial lamb, my seatmate arrived. Reaching into my carry-on bag for an Altoid, I saw a large shoe stop in the aisle, a beige sand-colored boot with sand-colored camouflage pants legs stuffed into it. My seatmate was a young soldier on the last leg of his trip home, not from 2 nights in a nice hotel in Rochester, but from 18 months in Iraq. He was returning home to see his baby daughter for the first time; I was more than humbled, I was ashamed. Other passengers kept stopping by our row of seats to thank him for his sacrifice.

No matter what I believe about this war, or wars past, as I thought about his sacrifice for my life--for yours--I stopped whining. It gave me pause. I haven't sacrificed like that, ever. As I talked with him, I remembered another flight home.

As I had walked out of the gate that time, a woman and three small children raced past me, jumping onto a serviceman who had been walking behind me, flinging themselves on him like they would never let him go, the children burying themselves in him, sobbing. It was a reunion that took into account the very possibility of it never happening.

Star_for_serviceMy husband John's great-grandmother's sacrifice was legendary in Housatonic, Massachusetts. The War Department provided a star for each son in service; in her window hung five stars--her five sons all served at the same time in World War II. People came from around the Berkshires to see the stars in her window, to say a quiet thank you, a silent nod at how hard it was for her to say goodbye to those boys.

John always used to call my stepfather on Memorial Day just to say a quiet thanks. Boyce never talked about his service as one of Patton's Ghosts, but he won five bronze stars for what he had to do, what he did, what he saw and always remembered. We never even knew he had five bronze stars until we found his service record when he died. He never said, he just did.

All of us have lost something when wars are fought; some have lost everything. Today is a day more suited for humble remembering and honest thankfulness and a rethinking of our own whining and our misplaced self-pity than it is for bargains. Just remember today. You can shop tomorrow.


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Hello Patti,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on yet another important issue.


Amen to that. I'm vehemently opposed to this war...but I'm very supportive of our troops and have been feeling quite sad today that we're losing lives daily...

thank you for the reminder. our holidays have turned into a celebration of a day off work. my father-in-law died in february. my husband found 5 bronze stars in his things. no one in the family knew he had received them. have you read "the greatest generation"? i think they just might have been. thank you again.

cindy, marilyn, jylene - thank you for your notes. what is amazing about "the greatest generation" is the quiet way in which they gave of themselves for their country, not looking for attention, but very quietly doing what they were asked to do, what they felt they had to do to ensure life and freedom for their families, for strangers.

My grandfather, an immigrant from Italy, earned his citizenship by becoming a U.S. soldier and fighting in WWI. He knew what it meant to have the freedoms we do here in these Great United States. I wish there were more people like him in our world today. I can only hope to instill the smallest amount of that kind of humility in my sons.

Yes, celebrating the soldiers who faught for our capitalist way of life with sales does seem to trivialize their tremendous sacrifice, but, on the other hand it makes comedic sense.

I would like Memorial Day to become a Day like those 64 of the Season for Non-Violence when we meditate on ways to resolve conflicts peacefully.
Maybe one day we'll have a day to celebrate and meditate on the fact that all of our lives are an offering, that we all give n take in various ways.

Beautifully said.

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