Memorial Day – more than just a holiday

The Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

It is the traditional kickoff to the summer season, even though summer is still a few weeks away, a time when families fire up the grill, friends head to the beach and everyone rejoices that the warm weather is finally here.

But Memorial Day is about a lot more than relaxation. Indeed, two other “r” words come to mind – reflection and respect.

It began as Decoration Day, a way to honor those soldiers who died in the Civil War by tending and embellishing their graves. Both the North and the South claimed it. And though it was moved in the late 1960s to the last Monday in May, there are those for whom it will always be May 30. (This year the holiday falls on that date.)

As you exhale this weekend, you might take in “The National Memorial Day Concert” (8-9:30 p.m. Sunday, PBS) or listen to Danbury composer Charles Ives’ “Decoration Day.”

On Monday, you can raise the Stars and Stripes briskly, lower it to half-staff, but only until noon, and then raise it to full-staff. You might read “The Gettysburg Address,” in which President Abraham Lincoln asks us to consider the “great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Or maybe you’ll head to your local cemetery with cleaning equipment and flowers as they did in the old days to say “thank you” to those who gave – and had so much more to give. – Georgette Gouveia

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