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Column: Memorial Day a good time to leave your comfort zone

“Memorial Day is uncomfortable, if the truth be known.”

Looking around the sparsely populated Prairie Wind Middle School gymnasium during Monday’s Memorial Day service, speaker Paul Anderson, a Perham pastor and retired Navy Chaplain, pointed to empty chairs and bleachers as evidence of that discomfort.

If it had been a joyous, celebratory occasion, the gym probably would have been packed full.

But Memorial Day is solemn, rather than joyous. It’s a day of reflection and remembrance, not celebration. It forces us to feel and think things that most of us don’t enjoy feeling or thinking.

Thinking about the overwhelming number of soldiers who have died during war makes us reflect on the grim realities of human mortality, suffering and destruction. We’re faced to confront other people’s sacrifices, and, as Anderson said, that leads us to confront ourselves: Would we be willing to do the same? Could we act with courage and honor, especially in the midst of war? Would we give our own life for someone else’s?

When we take a moment to remember the hundreds of thousands of military men and women who have died for our freedoms since the dawn of the nation, we feel pangs of guilt and inadequacy. We recognize that every one of those souls was precious. That every one of those bodies was delicate. That every one of those soldiers was also a son, daughter, brother, sister, childhood friend, father, mother – a real person with flesh and blood, dreams and ideas.

We realize all the wrong that’s been done in the past, and understand that there’s nothing to be done about it now. We want to at least be able to express our gratitude for those sacrifices, which have ensured our freedom, but, as Anderson said, “There is no sufficient way to say ‘thank you.’”

So we feel some degree of powerlessness, helplessness.

We continue on with our normal day-to-day lives, spending our Memorial Days barbequing, boating, working in the garden, or any number of other activities we find more fun and pleasant than a Memorial Day service.

What we need to remember is that we’re not helpless, or powerless.

Our power lies in the very thing granted to us by the people Memorial Day was made to remember: freedom.

We have the freedom to choose our own destinies, to choose our own actions and philosophies. And that includes the choices we make about how to reflect on the fallen. Even if we decide not to attend a Memorial Day service, we can still choose to reject apathy; to remain conscious. Conscious of how and why we are able to live the good lives we live. Conscious of the fact that freedom isn’t free. Conscious of the wars that have come before us, and that are happening today. Conscious of how fortunate we all are to be able to attend barbeques, go boating or work in the garden.

In memory and honor of all those who died for our freedom, we can do our darnedest to use that luxury well. We can continue to live free, and strive to assure the freedoms of all people everywhere. 

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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