Today is the official observance of Memorial Day and the culmination of the long holiday weekend that for most of us marks the beginning of summer.
At first glance, it might seem hard to reconcile those contradictory meanings. On one hand, a day set aside for somber reflection about members of our armed forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice during war; on the other, a time of celebration, of rest and relaxation, a time to get away from work, gather with family and friends, maybe eat some barbecue and watermelon.
The two are less contradictory than they seem, however.
We send our troops off to war with assurances that they are defending all that’s good about the nation — democracy, freedom, justice, prosperity — and to secure peace.
Americans have responded to the calls to arms issued throughout our history for various reasons, including that they had no choice.
And while the assurances have been more true at some times in our history than at others, probably most of those who answered the call had some belief they were sacrificing in service to the high ideals that define the nation.
When people gather today to enjoy life in the United States, they are, by definition, honoring the sacrifices of people who died to secure that way of life.
We honor that sacrifice by making full use of democracy, freedom, justice, prosperity and peace and by having the courage, energy and good sense not to trade them away.
We also can honor our war dead by ensuring that we care for the veterans who survived.
The living can honor the dead by flying flags and visiting graves, by assembling peacefully, and speaking openly, by praying or choosing not to pray.
The main thing to remember on Memorial Day is that we are not owners but merely stewards of the rights and freedoms we enjoy.
• Michael A. Smith