Before Memorial Day became the day to compare notes about beach traffic, to open the pool, to catch the first summer sales, it was the day to remember those who died while in the nation's service. It was originally called Decoration Day. And while the origins of customs like this are always disputed, it seems pretty clear that the custom of setting aside a day to honor the nation's war dead started in the 1860s, around the time of the Civil War.
Maybe the families started it. Maybe it was those once-removed, who wanted to find a way to show their respect and gratitude for the sacrifice made by the few for the sake of the many. Interesting that this day of commemoration is rooted in a time of such division. Even now there is the inevitable tension and distance between the two meanings of the day: on the one hand, those who just want and need a day to relax, and those who want and need a day to mourn. There's a human need for both – for refreshment and celebration, for pause and remembrance.
But it seems fitting that those who are not carrying the burden of grief should pause to remember those who do.
So, to the men and women who are serving around the world, to the families who support them, we thank you.