Memorial Day

“How could man rejoice in victory and delight in the slaughter of men?” – Lao Tzu

Memorial Day remembers those who got it – those good people who recognized that Life is a test and then stepped up in faith, love, and honor to overcome.  Personally, I do believe that Life is a test.  I believe that my life is God’s way of forming me, grinding me into a stone suitable for Solomon’s temple, teaching me the lessons I need to internalize before I move on, trying to make a diamond out of the rough – that’s what life is.  You are the Gladiator, thrust into the ring of earth, with the unseen watching and wondering – what you will do with this test?

“Every man dies.  Not every man really lives.” – William Wallace

Although I’ve failed many times and will fail again, that’s how I try to look at life – a test.  A hungry family, there to highlight not only my many blessings, but the problems of our society, the world at large, and to offer me an opportunity to help – and that, in and of itself, forcing me to ask the question, “How do I, and how does a society, best ‘help’ our struggling?”  It’s a difficult test with no easy answers – such is life.

“There is no better than adversity.  Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” – Malcolm X

As soon as you think the answer is to promote a Great Society, people lay claim to hours of another’s work but then neglect to volunteer in the community themselves, instead engaging in criminal enterprises to exploit their neighbor, all the while voting for more ‘aid’ and counting on their neighbors good souls to continue providing for them, whether by food and housing subsidies or prison budgets.  These people exist to show us some truths about our Self, for they are Us, and they make us question our aid approach, our prison policy, our war on drugs…  They force the questions, “Are they working?  How does a society best encourage its youth?  And how does it prevent the lazy and self-centered from exploiting the hard working and caring?  How do I raise my own children not to feel entitled, but to want to help?

“A tough lesson in life that one has to learn is that not everybody wishes you well.” – Dan Rather

There are people who have enough riches for 14 lifetimes but still exploit the common man for more, engaging in Ponzi schemes, frauds, and illegal market manipulation – these people force us to evaluate whether we have Freedom or Chaos, many times demonstrating that what is legal is not what is right, they show us what we can become as well as who We are.  That is life, a trial, a test, a forging of metal through fire, hammer, and anvil.

“John Henry said to his captain,
‘A man is nothing but a man,
But before I let your steam drill beat me down,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand.'” – Ballad of John Henry

Life, everything and everyone, past and present, all of it, is there as a mirror of Us – so we can see who We were, who We are, and then decide who We wish to become.  All of us are humbly invited to take the test of the mirror on the wall and see how close to Snow White we can be.  Anyway, that’s what Life is to me – a trial, a test, a training grounds.  And Memorial Day, a holy day to remember those who passed it.

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” – Epictetus

There are people, people not very much different from me and you, who watched as a grenade came down from the sky, saw it land in their trench, and thought “this is a trial, a test to see if I am, indeed, one of the good guys.”  And they jumped on that grenade.  Or rushed out of the bunker to save a comrade.  Here’s to you, you Heroes of Mankind.  To all of you good spirits that jumped on the grenade, you who actually chose to sacrifice your life for your brother, We, those of us you left behind, we most humbly thank you.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

But Memorial Day isn’t only meant to remember the military veterans who selflessly paid the ultimate price.  Memorial Day is about all good people, martyrs, and Saints – and not just those who came before us, but those who live with us now… it’s about you.  Yes, believe it or not, there will be someone, many years from now, who remembers you on Memorial Day.  They will know that you were indeed one of the good guys, and they will thank God that a person such as you lived.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.  Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” – George S. Patton

You who volunteer to teach kid’s lacrosse, you who help in the student classroom, you who give your time at the food bank – thank you for living a life worth remembering.  God’s test of “will you do the right thing here?” is not always a grenade, and I’m thankful that there are people doing great things right now – people passing the test.  And then of course, there are sinners like me…

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

We’re all sinners, in case you didn’t know (uh-oh, the big secret is out).  And I’m so glad that every day has a sun rise, that each day is Easter, that we are born again and risen white as snow in the eyes of God.  God provides the ram, Jesus makes us white, a Father loves his Son even after he chooses poorly – however the message got through for you.  The point is, you are going to go home one day, and the test, the question before you now is, “will you do the right thing here?”  Sometimes answering “Yes” isn’t as easy as it might seem.

“A president’s hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right.” – Lyndon B. Johnson

I think we have a profound respect for those who sacrificed in battle because in our hearts we know that, ultimately, they passed their final exam.  I believe this is why, when America finally balances its budget and becomes whatever it is we are destined to be, we will take care of our military veterans – we will take care of those who served Us.  I don’t maintain that our current defined benefit system of paying a 38 year-old half salary, automatic inflation raises, and healthcare for the rest of their lifetime (however long that will be in decades to come is anyone’s guess) is a financial obligation that our children must owe… but I am saying that, if we’re to do this right in the end, we better decide to get rid of our tanks and warplanes before we stiff our good people who served.

“To give victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary.” – Abraham Lincoln

I admit it, I’ve become a Dove over this last decade.  The Hawks may be right, that if we went back to being weak America – you know, the one we once were and hoped to remain when we started out – that again the powers of Europe or Asia would bring armies to bear against us and burn down our White House.  But I for one think it’s high time we test that theory again.  We do want to keep trying to live in peace, right?

“I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.” – Albert Einstein

I don’t know about you, but I am one war-weary citizen in this world of ours.  I don’t like our role of world policeman.  On the contrary, I think it’s time for the Giant to go back to sleep.  I feel like we are the Hulk in a scene from The Avengers, with the world wondering when we will stop punching stuff.  Sometimes, as I count the dead and injured, I begin to wonder whether or not we are the good guys… and that concerns me.

“It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it.” – Robert E. Lee

If we do need these wars for a peaceful future… if we do need to “help” foreign countries to discover freedom and democracy… if we do need government programs to assist those of us who have fallen on hard times as a result of our “current” economic times… then I say this:  Let’s pay for it in our Generation.  Let’s jump on the grenade.  Let’s BE who it is we are remembering this Memorial Day.

“The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.” – Socrates

Let’s balance our budget.  Let’s take the shrapnel now and save the generations behind us, instead of watching the debt grenade until it explodes on all of us.  If we jump on it and it’s a dud, great.  Who knows, there may even still be time to disarm it…  this might be a cause for MacGruber, but perhaps we can still beat our Self.  We have to try to win, right?

“The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself; to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile.” – Plato

Is it our political system that forces us to sell off our children’s future?  Or do We actually prefer inflation, interest payments to bankers, and unfunded government promises?  Memorial Day has got me all fired up again – let’s do the right thing.  If given the choice, let’s choose to become a martyr.  Come on my good super friends, let’s balance our budget.  Let’s put away our fear and jump on the damned grenade.  Let’s become the people we admire.

“The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.” – Caskie Stinnett

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