Memorial Day---or better, yet, Memorial Day weekend---is a complex holiday. That does not make it anything less than other major holidays; it is just different. It seems that the federal holiday has its origins right after the Civil War. It was an opportunity to remember those Union soldiers who had died in that cause. Gradually, the “remembering” expanded to include all the men and women who had died in the service of their country.
Earlier it often was called Decoration Day. I heard this term most of the time when I was growing up in rural Indiana. I understood it as the time when the old people went to the cemeteries to “decorate” with flowers the graves of their family and friends. I knew it had some military association, but by my lifetime, the holiday again had expanded to include everyone who had already passed away. But it was more complex than that.
For many people Memorial Day celebrates the beginning of summer. That association with summer helps if it hits 90 degrees! Summer begins and lasts till early September, when Labor Day signals its official end. Of course, no one in early September thinks summer is finished---or at least, the hot weather has ended! In many ways, Memorial Day and Labor Day are bookends.
However, for me and for most Hoosiers, the complexity of Memorial Day does not end here. It is always the weekend the Indianapolis 500 mile race is run. Even for those of us who could not care less about racing cars, the “Indy 500” was part of the weekend tradition. In fact, that weekend---the race---culminated a month long build-up to the weekend. For an Indiana farm boy, May was a time of finishing the school year, planting corn and beans, the beginning of baseball, Memorial Day and the Indy 500.
If I were asked whether it was in any way a spiritual thing, I would have replied negatively. I never went to church. Occasionally, I was aware of churches’ having “services,” but I did not see them as spiritual. They were more patriotic---more nationalistic. That was ok, but it was not the same thing as spiritual for me. So Memorial Day weekend never has been a spiritual occasion for me.
And that is still true. I am happy to remember and celebrate the lives of the American men and women who gave their lives on my behalf and my country. I appreciate and enjoy being a citizen of this country. Certainly those of us who are can count ourselves very fortunate. But being American is not a spiritual thing for me. It might be for others and that’s ok.
Given all that, is it possible for this Memorial Day weekend to become spiritual? The answer is, of course! It is possible for every day to become spiritual! That is the beauty of the life, the time, and the opportunities God gives to each of us. I thank God daily for my life, my time, and my opportunities. I know I did not create my own life. I realize I do not make my own time. And when my time is up, I can no more stop the ending than I began my beginning! And I do not create all my opportunities.
So I am thankful. And I believe being thankful is always a spiritual response. I am thankful to my parents who gave birth to me and cared for me all those infant days I cannot even remember. They are both deceased and buried in an Indiana cemetery. I have no idea whether anyone took flowers to their graves this Memorial Day. But that does not mean I appreciate them any less.
I am thankful to other members of a church family who helped raise me from infancy to adulthood. And I am thankful to others in the larger community who helped in countless ways to make my life possible. No doubt, there were even people I did not know who probably helped me. And there are many more people whom I knew, but never probably knew how they helped me. A huge number of them also are long dead and inhabiting cemeteries scattered across a good number of states.
All these memories are sacred to me. They are imbued with the Spirit of God who is for me a God of Providence---a providential Divinity. In my spirituality God deals indirectly with people as much as directly. I know as well as I know anything that God was at work in the members of my family, my church family, my community family to bring me to where I am today. That is a wonderful memory. And I am happy this Memorial Day to remember these people and their gifts.