Imagine a debt that can never be fully repaid.
That obligation is so great that it is nearly incomprehensible to think about, so we block it from our thoughts and pretend that it does not exist.
But each of us who enjoys the myriad benefits of living in this great country and acknowledges the sacrifice that made it possible must come to terms with that debt.
No time is more appropriate for that than Memorial Day weekend.
More than 1.3 million American service members have died in our wars and conflicts. At least 38,000 Americans are still missing in action, most of them (30,000) from WWII.
Each number represents an individual who, like the rest of us, had hopes and dreams, joys and fears, but most of all an expectation of a full life, which was cut short.
The purpose of remembering them is to honor their service and realize that what we have is built upon their ultimate sacrifice. They have given the full measure.
James Garfield, who served as a Union officer in the Civil War and would later become the 20th President, spoke at the first Memorial Day (then called Decoration Day) on May 30, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery.
He said, “Consider the silent assembly of the dead. Their voices will forever fill the land like holy benedictions. Here, let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love.”
But just remembering is not enough. Our responsibility carries with it an obligation to be the best version of ourselves.
In the great war movie Saving Private Ryan, a dying Captain Miller tells Private Ryan, who was rescued and about to be sent home, “James… Earn this. Earn it.” The movie then flashes forward to an elder James Ryan visiting Miller’s grave.
Ryan looks at Miller’s tombstone and says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge, and I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough.”
So on this Memorial Day weekend, we remember what they have done and give thanks for their service. But we also reflect on what it means to be the beneficiaries of their sacrifice.