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Yes … No

Not a chance! Can you imagine the uproar if someone suggested canceling Memorial Day? It is no longer just a day but a weekend marking the unofficial beginning of summer. Just think of how upset we get when the weather is not nice. Or how businesses count on this as one of the three days to make their summer.

I am not against all this. But the fact is… we may have already canceled Memorial day as a remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Memorial Day began as a remembrance of the staggering 620,000 people killed during the Civil War.  Over time we expanded to a memorial of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Today… where have all visits to cemeteries, parades, and poppy flowers gone?

Origins in the Gettysburg Address

Speaking for less than two minutes, Lincoln eloquently expressed his conviction that the Civil War was the ultimate test of whether the Union created in 1776 would survive, or whether it would “perish from the earth.”

He began with the assertion that the Declaration of Independence – and not the Constitution – was the true expression of the founding fathers’ intentions for their new nation. At that time, many white slave owners had declared themselves to be “true” Americans, pointing to the fact that the Constitution did not prohibit slavery. Lincoln asserted that the nation formed in 1776 was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Lincoln’s historic address redefined the Civil War as a struggle not just for the Union, but also for the principle of human equality. Lincoln’s assertion is two-fold. First, the United States is unique. No nation was ever founded on a commitment to liberty and equality. And the Civil War was a trial to see if a nation based on such lofty ideals could survive.

He believed that to remain a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men”—all people—“are created equal” and that “government of, by, and for the people shall not perish from the earth”—these are the “unfinished work” and the “great task remaining” for every generation.

The following day newspapers all over the country reprinted Lincoln’s speech. Opinion was generally divided along political lines, with Republican journalists praising the speech as a heartfelt, classic piece of oratory and Democratic ones deriding it as inadequate and inappropriate for the momentous occasion.

Other “Memorial Days”

Recently Pope Francis drew attention to another kind of Memorial Day. The Pope marked the observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day by calling on the world to “remember the Shoah” and to “be aware of how this path of death began, this path of extermination, of brutality.”

“To remember also means to be careful because these things can happen again, starting with ideological proposals to save a people and ending up destroying a people and humanity”.

It seems today we can not even remember accurately the recent events of January 6, 2021 or the burning of “Black Wall Street” exactly100 years ago. The history of other such events nationwide is still not widely known beyond their home cities, though they were many: Bronzeville in Chicago; Hayti in Durham, N.C.; Sweet Auburn in Atlanta; West Ninth Street in Little Rock, Ark.; and Farish Street in Jackson, Miss. The year 1921 ironically marks the creation of the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”.

By extension are we canceling the lives of those who had no choice dying in lynchings or the slower killing of the spirit? We do not even remember those who never had a chance to be born no matter what their color simply because they were inconvenient.

Two Memorial Day meditations

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

Cancel Memorial Day?