Memorial Day - A Monument To Grief And Hope

There are many moods and varied emotions on Memorial Day.  This Memorial Day will be a time when these moods and emotions will range from pride to sorrow, from tribute to regret.  But there are two words that bears the message of memorial day - grief and hope. There will be much grief as we remember those who have died fighting in our nation's armed forces.  There will be grief as we remember why they died.

Who are those who have died in all of our wars?  Most of them were not soldiers born and bred to do battle.  They were husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  They left behind families filled with grief.  They were the promise of a tomorrow that never came.  They were the flowers that never bloomed.  One wonders what might they have been accomplished had they lived.  What might have been their impact on society had they not died.

It might have been possible that one of them could have found a cure for cancer, except that he/she died a victim of this moral cancer called war.  One might have composed a melody so beautiful that it would have moved the world, except that he/she died to blare of taps and the beat of earth being shoveled on his/her casket.  One might have painted a picture, or written a poem, or discovered an answer, or learned a truth, except that he/she ended up in a mess of dirt and blood.  One of them might have found the pathway to peace, except that he/she died along the road of war.

Why did they die?  They died because people are weak, untutored and unwise; because humanity with all its boastful progress has not yet learned to live.  Memorial Day may not be a time to search for answers, but it is day to speak the truth.  The truth is this: Memorial Day is a monument that we have built to grief.  It is a monument to folly.  Those who died were victims.  They were the unnecessary sacrifices that we offered on the altar of the god of war.

Let us not destroy the day nor dishonor the dead with pious tributes that hide behind the basic truth.  Let us not shift the guilt to some nameless or faceless enemy.  The names of friends and foes are many, and they keep changing throughout history.  There were those who were enemies in the past and have become our friends, and there are those who were our friends in the past and have now become our enemies.

Is it possible that we can find the path to peace?  Is it too much to ask, too great a promise to keep?  Is it an impossible dream?  If we cannot believe that peace is possible, then we are condemning future generations of young men and women to death.

But peace is a real goal, and peace is possible.  We need to believe that those whom we memorialize have not died in vain.  We need to have faith that the day will come, be it in our time, in a future generation's time, when people will live in peace.  There will come a day in the future, when people will look upon our age and be horrified.  They will say of us in disbelief, "Did men and women kill each other in those days?"

What we as a humanity have done cannot be changed.  It is done, and this is our monument to grief.

However, there is another side to the monument.  Memorial Day is also a monument of hope.  The future is there before us.  As we find ourselves involved in the fight against terrorism, the hope for peace is still a distance away.  The shape of a peaceful future is not yet shaped.  But we can shape it, if we face it and lean forward and declare again and again and again that there will be a day when we will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.  There will be a day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.  If we do not give up in despair, there will be such a day.

Let this be our faith and our pledge.  Out of our grief, let this be our promise to the past and for the future, when we shall join together with all of humanity to shape tomorrow so that the time will come when we not need add to the list on Memorial Day.

By Jacob Friedman

Jacob Friedman is the rabbi of the Jewish Community Center in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. He has authored numerous articles, lectured widely, written creative prayer pamphlets, and published sermon pamphlets.

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