Today in Memorial Day in the United States. Different days in different countries, same idea.
I would bet many of you react to Memorial Day like this:
“Why should I care about what happened to old or dead people a long, long time ago? What does this
have to do with me? This is all a waste of my time. I’m young and alive, I have better things to do.”
Many of you think it, a few of you say it. Others call you names, and you get told “You should.” You ask again,
“What does it have to do with me?” and you get stock phrases that you don’t understand.
You might even notice many of the people saying those words can’t explain them, either.
This is for you.
Those old veterans and those in cemeteries weren’t always old or dead.
When they went to war, they usually were around your
age. They wanted to live and love. They liked women, and they liked to hang out and horse around and most of the other things you do.
Some even liked to play war.
If you could talk to them through a time Internet, you’d find those your age living in different times to be much like yourselves, just like the real Internet has shown that for those your age living in different countries.
Same people, just a different time.
Look past the wrinkles and tombstones. Look past time. What you are, they were.
Know that those people much like yourselves found something bigger and more important than themselves in war, something worth taking the chance on their lives. .
Only two kinds of people love war: psychopaths, and those who have never been through it.
But sometimes you have to do it, no matter how awful it is. It would be wonderful if everybody could agree not to kill or war anymore. But what do you do when someone doesn’t?
Don’t let the hope you’ll never have to do it stop you from admiring those your age who did, those who put aside their personal feelings and wishes for something bigger.
Something so big that it didn’t ultimately matter if they didn’t make it. What does free speech or worship or elections do for the dead? But they are so important to the living that they were worth doing solely for the sake of others.
Not only their loved ones and neighbors, but people they did not and could not know, people in different places and different times. People not even born yet. People like you.
Pretty strong belief, pretty long vision, but not just that.
Very often, the biggest reason why people in combat bet their lives and sometimes lost wasn’t any Big Reason.
They didn’t want to let their buddies down. They did it for their friends, the guys next to them who’ve been with them through thick and thin, through good times and very, very bad times. They shared intensely, that’s why people who served together make rock-solid friendships that last a lifetime.
I think you can relate to that.
Heroism isn’t usually thought out. In ultimate crisis, people act with their souls, and the heroic souls that can, do.
You might say, “I could never do that,” but most winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor (or similiar honor)*** probably would have said that, too, prior to doing what they did.
To believe in something bigger than oneself worthy of self-sacrifice is not irrelevant to you at all, even if you never go to war. One way or another, you’ll have to do the same (though probably not as extreme or outwardly heroic) to have a life worth living.
It’s ironic but true that the more you give up of your life, the more you get out of it. It can happen in war, or in its very opposite. It’s the giving that matters, no matter how.
War is not the only or even the best way to find something bigger than yourself. Wars are fought for bad reasons. Bad people do terrible things in wars, and sometimes good people don’t look much better.
But to say all war is bad is to say there is no difference between fighting Hitler and being Hitler. Only the self-lobotomized can believe that.
Sacrifice can take many forms, from a soldier saving his buddies under fire to a mother putting her children ahead of herself to someone dedicating their lives to the poor and helpless. Much different forms, same concept.
Mother Teresa gave up her life just as much as any soldier gave up his life for his country. She just gave longer.
If you’re young, don’t fret if you haven’t found those beliefs. Give it time; they’ll find you.
But if you live a life in which you cannot put anything or anyone ahead of yourself, that life will be a shell.
If nothing beyond yourself really matters, if nothing beyond yourself is worth fighting for, in whatever form, then how much are you worth? How much do you matter? What kind of husband would you be, what kind of father, what kind of man?
This is why so many people find their lives so empty: me, myself and I is only a big cause for a small soul.
So when you see those vets and tombstones, it’s not ancient history. Think of them as folks just like you who found that something bigger than themselves early in life.
They responded by giving of themselves out of love: for their buddies, their friends, their neighbors and countrymen, and ultimately, not just for the now, but past the now, to people they didn’t even know, like you.
Think of them as examples, think of them as role models, not necessarily for what you should do in life, but why.
They gave, you got, say “Thanks.”
***For those of you unfamiliar with the American Congressional Medal of Honor; it is a fairly unusual military honor. While it’s the highest military honor the United States can give, it’s not an award generals normally get. You don’t get it for a good battle plan, you get it for personal heroics. You don’t even have to kill anybody to get it; you can even get it if you’re a
conscientious objector who refuses to fight (click here for that incredible story. It is proper and fitting to take a little time today to read about living recipients of the Medal of Honor, and what they did to get them (or visit your national equivalent on your equivalent day to do the same).