Next Monday, May 29, 2023, is Memorial Day. I say that with confidence after checking a calendar to confirm my suspicions. Normally, I would have no trouble at all remembering that the last Monday of May is set aside as a day of remembrance, and a time to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
However, this year, thanks to May having five Mondays, Memorial Day is arriving later than normal. Formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated after the United States Civil War to honor soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line who lost their lives in battle.
As I have noted in the past, for me, the highlight of the extended Memorial Day weekend usually is, as the announcer used to say, “Sunday, Sunday Sunday.”
I would awake before the sun to catch the Monaco Grand Prix, and then switch over to the Indianapolis 500 before ending my day of nonstop auto racing with the Coca Cola 600.
The times that I was not watching racing, I could catch numerous baseball games from coast to coast. Sure, I knew that there was a solemn reason behind Memorial Day, and I have always respected the troops, but the need to truly sit still and quietly thank them seemed like an afterthought, especially when the world of sports was offering so many of the best of the best events.
Whether it is because I had an extra week to think about it, or because my priorities have changed, I find myself not really that excited about the prospect of wall to wall racing this Sunday.
Instead, I find myself for the first time in years really focusing on the message behind Memorial Day, while also being truly worried about the direction that the country is headed in. When trying to find a reason why I feel this way as Memorial Day approaches, my thoughts kept turning to a trip I took to Washington D.C. at the beginning of the month.
I was born outside of Washington D.C., but had not been back there for decades. When I lived there, I was constantly reminded of the various monuments and memorials to the various people and groups who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the American experiment in Democracy.
In Washington D.C., there are over 130 memorials honoring everything from the founding fathers, to fallen soldiers. The myriad monuments help ensure that the sacrifices of those who have come before us are always remembered.
Back when I would visit Washington on school field trips, seeing the various signs of democracy that so many have fought to protect, always made me feel a little bit more American
While the concentration of memorials in D.C. works out to roughly one memorial every two miles, there are memorials spread throughout the world honoring sacrifice of all shapes and sizes.
As a younger version of myself living outside of the Nation’s Capital, it was easy to think that America was as strong, if not stronger, than the various marble monuments that stood guard over the National Mall.
In reality though, the American experiment in Democracy really comes down to a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin by Maryland Constitutional Convention delegate and founding father James McHenry who quoted Franklin as replying to a question about whether America was a republic or a monarchy by saying that it was a republic, “if you can keep it.”
What had seemed like a throwaway statement when studying American history in school, now rings even more ominously as a cautionary warning that the American ideals that were fought for over 200 hundred years ago, are not guaranteed for 200 more years, or even 200 days.
Just this week, individuals were sentenced to prison for engaging in seditious conspiracy during an attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.
In past challenges that are remembered on Memorial Day, like World War II, citizens rallied to do all they could to defeat the common enemy, versus attacking the various symbols of democracy. My grandmother built battleships in Georgia, and my grandfather fought at Pearl Harbor, among other battle sites. My grandparents, and millions of other people’s grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters have done similar things when called to duty.
Memorial Day reminds us that Americans owe their freedom to the sacrifice made by countless individuals who came before us, and to the people who are currently serving in the armed forces. The sacrifice of those who came before us who we remember on Memorial Day made us who we are.
Instead of focusing on that aspect of Memorial Day, we find ourselves with a battle between the Executive and Legislative branches of government battling over whether to pay the nation’s debt, and a football coach turned senator holding up military promotions on political grounds.
These are just two examples of the rampant division that is infecting America and threatening not only people’s financial health, but also the very health of the nation itself.
As was the case during the Covid-19 pandemic, there were voices who said that sports were the great distraction that people needed to forget about their troubles.
Sports have been a large part of my career in various capacities. But at some point, people need to stop being distracted by shiny things and start demanding action.
When Sunday rolls around, I may yet revert to old habits and watch some racing on television.
However, hard deadlines that will potentially shape the lives of everyone person in the world will start to arrive shortly after Memorial Day.
Those same soldiers that we honor on Monday may soon have their paychecks delayed if Congress cannot reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling.
I try to remain optimistic that grown ups will emerge in Washington D.C. to avert a catastrophic financial meltdown caused by two sides failing to put aside petty differences and remember that there are real world consequences to their political gamesmanship.
A lot has happened in D.C. in the decades since I was last there. Some of the monuments and sights that I had treasured in my youth have been sullied somewhat by the actions of extremists and wannabe dictators.
Yet, for now, the monuments and the democracy still stand.
I am glad that I got to return to Washington D.C. and I still want to believe in what the monuments represent.
However, Washington does not exist in a bubble. Actions and inactions have consequences.
Sadly, red lines that once seemed uncrossable are now used as political pawns by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum.
Memorial Day stands as a reminder to the best of us.
Unfortunately, that message seems to be falling flat among many of the rest of us.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some quiet reflection to get to.
Copyright 2023 R. Anderson