Memorial Day an uncomfortable holiday

Memorial Day has never been a comfortable holiday for me. It is a day when our unbridled patriotism is confronted with the reality of sacrifice – and how great that sacrifice can be. Sometimes the things that mean the most to us are the hardest to explain.
We spend the morning at cemeteries filled with crosses, flags and poppies. We hear prayer, gunfire and “Taps” played by the trumpet over the silent crowds. The proceedings bring many strong feelings of sadness, thankfulness and pride. It becomes easy to understand why our nation is strong and proud and blessed.
Memorial Day is not a holiday when we go out and celebrate in typical fashion. We grieve for the war heroes we’ve lost and remember how they made a difference in our lives. We are reminded that we would not live the lives we do if it were not for the service of our veterans. Unlike many holidays, Memorial Day does not only look at the past but also at the present and the dedication so many give to tomorrow’s generation.
It might be the closest we come to seeing and understanding the sacrifices members of the military have made for us. As we go from cemetery to cemetery, we can see that it has taken many brave men and women for us to live the way we do today.
I remember when I was about 7 or 8 and my younger cousin would sometimes come and stay with us. Her mom was overseas with the National Guard during the first Gulf War. We’d have a great time playing during the day. Then when it would get dark and we’d get ready for bed, it would become harder for her and she would ask questions about her mom.
It was not easy for a 2-year-old to understand the importance of what our soldiers were doing when she just wanted her mom back. I can’t imagine it is much easier for a parent to go through the separation either.
It was wonderful to ride the bus to the airport the day my aunt was coming back. There were flags, yellow ribbons and smiles all around.
Maybe it is the strong emotions that make Memorial Day an uncomfortable holiday, because the sacrifice is constantly renewed with each generation. The wounds of the past can never finally heal, because we all can relate the stories to people we know today. It doesn’t only bring back the memories of smiles, but also of the hard times and the sacrifices we witness in every war. While most soldiers come back without injuries, they sacrifice a great deal by giving up time, sometimes years, from their children and family or their careers.
Every soldier makes sacrifices.
We can all observe Memorial Day and hopefully understand the gifts we have been given because an American soldier put dreams for their country ahead of their own. It is a selfless act to serve in the U.S. armed forces, and we should be thankful every day for the gifts they provide us.
When we wear the poppies that symbolize Memorial Day, we acknowledge the service of our soldiers. They have given all of us the freedom to take any path we choose. Memorial Day offers us a renewal of our patriotism and a day to be thankful.

People should do what’s right

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird"

It had been a long time since I’d seen the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but when I sat down to watch it, I quickly remembered why it is one of my favorites. The best movies can lift us up and help clarify our beliefs.
“There are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us,” one character explains at a difficult moment.
When I look at my heroes, real and fictional, that is what I see in them – their willingness to pay a greater price, to bear a heavier burden and to make the difficult decisions sets them apart.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is just a movie, but the movie’s main character, Atticus Finch, exemplifies these characteristics.
Finch is a lawyer in a small Alabama town during the Depression. Finch loses his case and an innocent black man is convicted of raping a white girl, because not one member of a white 12-man jury had the strength of conviction to stand alone and be singled out by the rest of the town.
The contrast between Finch and the jurors makes us wonder which we resemble. We know who we would want to be like, but we’re never sure until the crisis hits.
In the movie’s courtroom scene, the black community continues to show its support for Finch from their balcony seating. They believe in Finch because he believes in doing what is right no matter how hard. He won’t ignore his principles even when so many in his community seem to turn against him.

We all have opportunities in our lives, maybe not as dramatic as Finch’s or as public as our elected leaders, but choices will present themselves to us. What we do and how we handle them will define who we are and what our purpose is.
Unfortunately, often the people who do what is right don’t get the credit or attention they deserve. They are not singled out as heroes by the lens of a camera capturing their brave actions, selfless motives or even the pain they endure. But we learn from the movie, with its courtroom scene, that no good deed goes unnoticed. Someone is always looking down on us.
American history is full of heroes who were willing to stand up for their beliefs. Abraham Lincoln’s determination to keep America together helped him lead the country through our bloodiest and most divisive war. He was one of those rare people who was willing to stand up alone. Lincoln accepted probable defeat in his re-election bid. He accepted responsibility for the deaths of thousands of soldiers. While he gets credit now, he was attacked throughout his presidency and ultimately killed.
What would we think of Lincoln today if he had compromised?
We should remember Finch’s explanation to his daughter, Scout, when she asked why he was defending a black man. “The main one is that if I didn’t, I couldn’t hold my head up in town.”
Our heroes are always going to be the people who stand with those who need help defending themselves; the people who are willing to bear a burden that is only theirs because they put what is right ahead of what is easy. We know in the end Finch was able to hold his head up high because he didn’t let public opinion sway what his conscience knew was right.

Americans need constant perseverance

Franklin D. Roosevelt

In his inaugural address seventy-six years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous words, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself,” echoed throughout the countryside. In a time when the average American was struggling to find food, families continued looking to the future. They didn’t give up; they persevered. Their determination inspired future generations to dream bigger.When I watch the news, I feel that so many commentators today give us reasons to fear or hang our head; we’re always nearing the end. It’s good to be informed and good to be well read, but how can we stay optimistic when it seems we are constantly being encouraged to fear what will happen next?

Fear cripples dreams and weighs down hope. Imagine an America where you are told your biggest dream can’t happen because that America no longer exists. I keep hearing people talk like that. Imagine how our history would look if, at the outset of an earlier crisis, Americans gave up and let fear take over their lives. Well I can’t imagine it, and I won’t. Every generation has its own adversity, and every generation must step up to the challenge and fix the problems. We can’t let ourselves get bogged down in fear or hopelessness and forget about what really matters. We are a country and a people who thrive on adversity. It hasn’t seemed to matter if the struggle was internal or external, economic or moral.

We’ve always found a way to make our lives better by sheer belief, determination and hard work. The war of rebellion against England that founded our country was thought by most to be impossible, but it succeeded and resulted in a country greater than the world had ever seen. Slavery didn’t automatically make men and women give up. Many of them fought harder and forced others to see and end the suffering. Living on earth didn’t keep men from their dreams of walking on the moon, and a Great Depression didn’t cause Americans to throw in the towel and quietly drift away in economic uncertainty. One thing we’ve learned about our world is that there will always be struggles and injustices that cause us to want to break down or give in. At the same time, there always seem to be people there to encourage us and lift us up.

As I listen to the snow geese flying overhead, I know the spring means more to me because I experienced the winter. Because we struggle through the hard times, Americans can appreciate the good times. America will always be that ideal place where every generation is expected by the last to carry its banner forward, where each generation has shown us how to get through the difficulties. We are expected to look to the future and make a better world than the one around us.

FDR also gave us a description of America in his first inaugural, delivered on March 4, 1933, that is especially appropriate to these times. “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy, the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves, to our fellow men.”

Everyone has something to contribute

Barack Obama and John McCain

In a world that constantly seems to be getting smaller, our communities seem to be getting farther away from each other. In our recent presidential election, we had two men of different ages, beliefs, ideologies and parties telling Americans to get involved in their society, to pull their communities closer, and to make an already great country even greater. This goes beyond issues and policy. It falls into the fundamental principals that are most important in American life. Reaching out to lift someone up is an impulse to which we can all relate. We all know the feeling of struggle and despair. We all know personally what it means when unexpectedly a friend or stranger reaches out and helps us through a tough time. It doesn’t matter what the problem is; it becomes easier. The weight becomes lighter and thankfulness replaces frustration. Something that seemed impossible only moments before now seems attainable. That is the result that makes helping others so important to a community. Not only do we all have the ability to see and feel what others are going through, but we can also care enough to make a difference.
Contributing to our communities is a non-partisan ideal. Before he became President Barack Obama, Senator Obama said, “When you choose to serve – whether it’s your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood – you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans.” Senator John McCain provided us with some specific suggestions: “If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you’re disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our armed forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be better, and you will be happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.”
At a time when the world seems to have stopped working the way it’s supposed to, we can look around and see people as individuals coming together to do what is right. Donating time and or money and putting others first, members of our community are doing what they can. There is no better way to see that needs are met with compassion than to get involved ourselves—right here in our own community. We get involved and make a difference.
This spring we are experiencing flooding here in the Dakotas. Volunteers are filling sandbags, cooking meals, caring for their neighbors and their neighbors’ pets, protecting the homes and belongings of their neighbors. Disasters are never pleasant, but they do show us generosity of the people we live with. Kindness is shown through acts that lift all of us through the hard times, and becoming the people who perform these acts makes us feel better about ourselves. The enthusiasm and dedication of volunteers are contagious. They are people who put others first and make life in our world better for everyone.
There are so many organizations in every town that need volunteers. Whether it’s the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, churches, museum, veterans organizations, schools, community theatre, local politics or youth athletics. Time after time these organizations and volunteers make a difference in their neighbors’ lives. We all – every single one of us – have something to contribute.

Jason Williams is an environmentalist and has constructed a two-story straw bale building out of renewable and recycled materials.