Every year on Memorial Day weekend, I visit my parents, aunts and uncles. I bring them flowers -- red geraniums, sometimes impatiens with it, just as my mom used to do. I carefully plant them in front of the tall granite memorial stone at the cemetery.
On cooler Memorial Days than this, I will pick the lilies of the valley that cover the hill right behind their graves and place them on the head stones. This year, I may bring some blooms from my garden at home. And pennies for my uncle Marty!
I've been doing this since I was a child, always accompanying my mom as she did the planting and shared family stories along the way. I've always found doing this peaceful and healing (apart from the days when we are swatting mosquitoes or steaming from the heat.)
It was always a history lesson when Mom and I went -- of my family, of our community, as we passed by the grave markers of civic leaders, like R.E. Olds, founder of the now also-deceased Oldsmobile. I remember when we were kids and so many would hold their breath when driving by a cemetery, being afraid of ghosts.
I never was. I felt they were safe places, filled with the remains of people who, for the most part, were probably well loved.
But that history lesson was so very local.
I got a different take on Memorial Day last year when I visited Normandy. (That's where most of these photos are from, along with two from a local cemetery and another from Paris.)
This is truly hallowed ground, and it is almost overwhelming to view the hundreds, the thousands of graves of those who lost their lives in the invasion more than 60 years ago. Even those who landed and made it home safely, those who are still alive, are so very old and frail now.
It was a truly sobering experience. And yet, so very beautiful, so tranquil.
But I think what is so sad is that war continues; young men still die fighting for our country. For other countries, too. There may not be other graveyards so large as this all targeted to men fighting in the Middle East, but they will still be in the spots like the one I visit to honor my parents.
There is an extraordinary sense of peace and loss when one walks between the graves at Normandy's American Cemetery. Was it the crisp white markers against the brilliant green grass? Or the deep blue sky? I know it isn't always blue...
Is it the view that so reminds us of the men who died here had to conquer?
Is it the cool cover of the memorial building that offers sanctuary?
Or the sense that all were welcome here? Perhaps for some, fighting against Hitler was even more personal than to others?
I'm not sure -- I only know that this experience made Memorial Day a little different for me.
I'll "go to work" as I emcee a recognition of veterans and and screening of PBS' "National Memorial Day Concert" in Jackson on Sunday evening. I'm sure we'll have a picnic or a cook out. We'll relax, thrilled to have a day off. But year, the holiday will be a bit sadder, as loss is fresher. And I'll think a little more broadly.
Happy Memorial Day. I hope yours is lovely.
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