Decoration Day, the forerunner of Memorial Day, started just a few short years after the finish of the Civil War. In a time when our country was bloodied and bruised from collective wounds, families of many and few across the nation needed profound healing. Just as the arrival of spring days brought new flowers, new growth and life after winter’s silent garden, time was starting to bring healing to wounds.
There was a need to start to repair the fractures of the country, to comfort the mourners and remember together the brother soldiers on both sides of the war. Coming together in what is now Arlington Cemetery, this “silent assembly of the dead” - of Union and Confederate soldiers alike, were recognized for their sacrifice by the decorating of the graves.
I remember Memorial Days fondly on road trips with my mom; leaving home, heading to Ohio and then into the hills of Kentucky. If we got into Kentucky late enough, I knew that we would see a thousand fireflies dancing down the hillsides. Driving on (really fun) twisty, turny roads we would arrive at the family cemeteries. Walking sticks, trash bags, song books and new flowers for decorating graves in hand – we would head up the hill to where the moss is inches thick and cushions our footfalls. Graves are cleaned from old flowers, and newly decorated. Stories are shared. Someone opens a songbook and starts us up. Soon notes to tunes like Sweet Bye and Bye and Amazing Grace are drifting among the trees, slowly flowing down the hills to the bottom. They mingle with bird song, crickets, and the ever present buzz of bees. Laughter and tears mingle as we remember those we have loved.
Yesterday, I had the honor of witnessing a service to commemorate veterans of foreign wars. In that cemetery, flag filled and flower draped, taps was heard. As I walked through the cemetery and saw headstones reflecting many veterans of service, I wished I could thank them for their sacrifice. But, they are gone and my words wouldn’t carry to them. Instead, I started to think about helping our nations’ own fractures from war. I hoped that the sincere gratitude of those present would be a balm through the pain of remembering. Just as the act of recognizing the loss of Union and Confederate soldiers was a start for healing for the survivors, I hope the acts and words of thank you are even a small source of comfort for our own living veterans and their families.