Going Gray for Memorial Day – Sue Painter – Medium
Every Memorial Day I wake up feeling gray and sad. Yes, like many other Americans we have plans for the traditional BBQ with friends later on today. That’s not the first thing on my mind, though. Opening my phone, I see that in honor of Memorial Day the Google icon is grayed out. Just like me.
Since the beginning of this country (if you’re not in the US this doesn’t apply to you) we’ve lost over 1.2 million American men and women to war. 1.2 million, that’s a numbing number.
Numbers don’t bring it home as much as faces do. I remember the faces. Every single Memorial Day I wake up remembering the faces of my high school and college friends whose names I have traced on the Vietnam Memorial. Friends Bill played with as a kid. Friends who were my sorority sisters and Bill’s fraternity brothers. Friends who marched in the Auburn band right next to me.
When Bill and I were just married and still in grad school one of his best friends, Lance, was killed in Vietnam. I will never forget as long as I live going with Bill to see Lance’s mother. We walked up the sidewalk and up the steps to a modest little home in Chattanooga and knocked on the door. A neighbor opened the door, and we walked in to find Lance’s mother sitting in a dining room chair weeping and moaning in such grief that I honestly thought she would die from the pain. Her eyes were swollen shut from crying. Her face was scratched and bleeding from her clawing herself in her grief, trying to stop her pain. In that one moment the true cost and horror of war came home to me, and I’ve never forgotten it. I don’t think I ever will.
Years later when the Vietnam Memorial was finished Bill and I went to Washington and found Lance’s name etched into that wall. I remember Bill’s fingers tracing the letters. The little boy Bill had fished with and ridden bikes with was gone, memorialized by the etched letters along with thousands of others. Back in Chattanooga, Lance’s mother got up every single morning until the very day she died, and touched the picture of Lance in his uniform.
It would be wonderful if humans had chosen to live life without painful sacrifice. But as we have set things up we do sacrifice. It isn’t just old names on old memorials, either. Every single weekday the US Department of Defense issues a casualty report, which you can find here. Right now, today, someone else is crying over a lost soldier, just like Lance’s mother.
Every day when I sit down to work I am inspired to do my best work by those who didn’t get the chance to make a life for themselves. Those who had the same hopes and dreams that Bill and I had to accomplish their goals. It’s my job to never forget those I knew, and to honor those I didn’t know.
My grandfather fought as an American soldier. My father was a Marine and fought in the Korean War. My husband was an Air Force officer and served during Vietnam. Several of my cousins served in the military, and one didn’t make it back. To me Memorial Day is a gray day, filled with memories of those who are no longer here. My husband could have easily been one of those, and I realize how very lucky we are.
You own a business. You have a life. Both your business and your life are precious. Honor them. Do your best work, give your best love. And remember those who cannot.