Why is Memorial Day Losing it’s Significance?

My grandfather above, in his Naval uniform. This is who I remember today, even though he never spoke of war to me.

I was on Facebook, as always, and I saw a long post from a friend of mine. He’s a Church Music Director and he works with young and old alike. The post he wrote spoke of an elderly Veteran, who felt young people in general do not respect or understand Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day and why these days are important.

I work with young people. I am going to hazard a guess; I could be totally and completely wrong in my reasoning but, I am going off what I know.

I teach middle school music and band. That means, I teach instrument classes and separate music courses, almost like music appreciation and world music combined. In those music courses, there is a very, very specific unit that starts the entire music textbook off on “Patriotism.” This unit only shows up in the 5th grade text and, you never see it again. Which is troubling.

However, let’s put the frequency of patriotic musical text aside (perhaps they get more in Social Studies?) and dive into the meaning.

Granted, fifth graders are not known to be super worldly and knowledgeable, but they are enthusiastic. In their younger years, elementary, they are even more so. I wish we took advantage of this enthusiasm and taught about important ideals then, instead of later.

I begin my unit and I always ask, “what is Patriotism?” And I explain it’s having pride in one’s country, I explain because, it’s a big word and it’s not usually known to them. Then I ask if Chinese people can be patriotic (because many kids think specific words are USA related only, there are other countries in this world children!)? After we discover the definition we listen to America the Beautiful and we talk about why they are lucky to be in our country.

I am not in any way trying to bash where I live and teach, but my students will say they are proud to be a USA citizen because of clothes, of fashions, because of things they have.

So then I ask them to dig a little deeper.

They are glad because their parents and family are here.

Good, but , let’s go deeper.

I ask them how come girls get to go to school? They tell me all girls get to go to school. Their vision is still very narrow at this age, they don’t know. So I tell them about Malala and I talk about girls in other countries and their freedom. I talk about boy soldiers in Africa. I scare them, I try to outrage them.

It’s not fair that people can’t be free, I say. They get all riled up, and I ask them, “What is Freedom?”

They always know, they think. They raise their hands in the air excitedly. “freedom is doing whatever you want!” The kids all agree. I then ask, “I am mad at someone, so I beat them up. I can do that, because I am free right? I want to so, freedom is like that?” The kids look puzzled. No I shouldn’t beat up people. However if that’s what it means, doing whatever you want, then there would be people dying everywhere, rapes, human trafficking, drug abuse, racial segregation….

The kids look at me and say, “Then what is Freedom?” The right question.

We discuss. Freedom generally boils down to, in our discussions, the ability to live your life under the statutes of the constitution with a focus on being morally good, or something close to that.

“So how do we stay free?” I ask. My students say, “we’re free because we’re American.” So no one wants to stop Americans from being free? Only Americans can be free? That stops them a bit, and 9/11 comes up, always. We discuss that freedom is not free, that people fought for our freedom and died in the past, die in the present, and will die in the future for it.

But, they still don’t understand really, the cost. They think it’s just death. The people who fight for freedom die or come home and it’s rainbows and unicorns.

They continue to think that, as they age. My 8th graders know some people in the military and see that the families are not together always, they see some people come back different but, they don’t understand. They think these events are singular and not widespread. That PTSD isn’t a huge problem. Only some people are effected by war. We civilians don’t get it.

We don’t understand, we weren’t there. How could we? Heck even our soldiers now don’t get how it was for past veterans. I’ve read about people in the trenches starving, I’ve read about our ancestors not being given the right clothes and freezing to death in the winter in their tent. I mean we can’t understand that. We really can’t understand that unless we go through it. Our lives scream abundance, how could we?

Our soldiers are lucky. Their mail goes home. They are given leave. They can be discharged and quit during this war. They can sometimes video chat with families. How many Vets could do that in WWII? The Korean War? (I don’t mean the video chatting but, reliable mail etc.) Do any communication, have comforts reliably? They sacrificed a lot in those wars, not just physically.

We can’t understand the personal price of war but that shouldn’t mean we can’t respect it. Respect the people who went through it.

Learning respect for our elders, soldiers, teachers, grandparents; that’s taught at home. We are taught to respect these people, because we see others we idolize or love treat these people a certain way.

There is a lot of entitlement, of “I deserve this because I am alive,” attitudes. Unless we change how we treat each other, instead of caring how as an individual, I am being treated, I don’t see much hope for respecting our Veterans, or any other person who serves another.

Serving others is not valued anymore, it’s serving yourself that’s king right now. This self centered attitude is only going to advance yourself, not the Nation.

But who cares about the Nation anymore? It’s Me, me, me that matters!

Sad, sad, sad. It’s sad. How can we change this?

Let’s thank people today. Not just on Facebook. Let’s gather up the kids, visit our grandparents that served, neighbors we know who did. Bring them some cookies. Talk. Volunteer to help a Vet with grocery shopping, with reminiscing. Thank them, even if you don’t know them, while you shop the sales. They exist. Don’t ignore them, not today.

Visit a cemetery, pay respects, go to a Veteran’s concert and talk about patriotic music (which would make me very happy! Spread the music! Talk about J.P Sousa! Woohoo!!!)

When I worked at The Fresh Market there was this gentleman. He was 94 years old. Everyday he came in for a small amount of groceries and a sweet roll. He wore his Vet hat every time. Everyone was dead you see. He would talk about things and it was an honor to listen to him. He did a lot. Us upfront at the registers, listening, we did a lot for him, just acknowledging him. Thanking him.

Teach your kids to remember the fallen after all, those soldiers you thanked are remembering those who died, after all we are supposed to remember the fallen today. Without our past there is no future.

Just try to respect the weight, the enormity of freedom and give all our ancestors and Veterans their due. It is really the least we could do.

(It’s not much but I donated to the Wounded Warrior Project today: wounded warrior project)

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