I had the honor to visit Arlington National Cemetery today. I was with my closest friend, who was visiting one of her closest friends, Landon Jones, who had tragically lost his life in an accident this past fall. His co-pilot, Jon Gibson, also died in that same accident. These two served our country in the Navy. Both left behind wives and children who go on without them.
Normally, I wouldn't mention people by name. But in this case, I will, because they need to have names. They need to be more than just numbers or references.
Arlington National Cemetery has over 400,000 graves. Some with bodies. Some without. All of these graves represent a person who gave their life in defense of this nation. I realize that in this modern day and age there isn't a whole lot that Americans can agree on. We're at each other's throats over gay rights, abortion, religious freedoms, healthcare, and a multitude of other things.
But if there is one thing we should all be able to agree on, it's that the people who died defending our country should be held in high regard. That those they left behind, whether it be wives, husbands, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, or brothers ... those people should also be held in high regard. Those who died and those who continue on without them, those people should be honored and thanked every day of our life.
We, as a country, fail to do this. Especially on Memorial Day, a day that is designed for this. It's become a holiday, much like Christmas, where any greater meaning has been lost in the sales. In the tourism.
There were a lot of tourists at Arlington today. I understand they have to keep the funding going somehow and I get that this is the least of the bad solutions, but it's disconcerting to see people happily snapping pictures next to signs with the cemetery's name on it or grave markers with military personnel on it.
I saw a lot of people jogging/running through the cemetery like it was a track.
It's wrong. We've forgotten what this day means. Millions of men and women have given their lives to the cause of this nation and we've given them a day. Only a day. Think, for a moment, what we've given other people. Presidents Washington and Lincoln get a day. Martin Luther King gets a day.
Millions of Americans who died defending our freedoms get only a day.
The math doesn't really work, does it? Washington, Lincoln, and King all were pivotal figures, no doubt. Not a single one of them would have mattered without the Americans who have lost their lives in the trenches. In the fields. In the jungles. In the air. In the sea.
Washington, Lincoln, and King would doubtless agree with me. Not a single one of them ever had an inflated self-worth. They never elevated themselves above anyone else. The people after them did.
We, as a country, have made a critical error. We've elevated the wrong people. We've idolized the wrong people and in the process we have criminally under-appreciated those Americans who have served (living and dead) and who are serving.
We've turned a blind eye to them and rendered those that have passed from this planet an afterthought.
I was able to meet a few of the survivors today, specifically the wife and mother of Jon Gibson. They, like my closest friend, were hurting. They were grieving. They were shedding tears. They had a hole in them that I, and everyone else, was incapable of healing.
And any other day of the year, they are invisible. Forgotten about. But on Memorial Day Weekend, they are recognized for what they've lost: A human being, a husband, father, and son, who brought joy into their lives. Who gave them love and received love in return.
But we blissfully ignore them when it's not this weekend. When they don't walk around with bright red shirts or bows or ribbons or badges declaring for all those with eyes that they have lost. They have sacrificed.
And they are hurting so greatly. I could only offer them a few words, a hug, and a kind touch. That's it.
Nothing, really. We owe them so much more as country, as a people, and we refuse to give it to them. We sit here and debate whether people who work at McDonald's deserve to make 15 dollars an hour, but can't be concerned about how our veterans are being treated. About how their families are being treated.
We forget and we do it, more or less, on purpose. We'd rather not think about it, perhaps out of guilt or shame. This is not a victimless crime and yet we do it. Every day.
We, as a people and nation, need to do more for those who are left behind. For those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. For those that serve in the military today and in the future.
Millions of Americans who have died get one day out of the year. Millions who have served get another day out of the year. Two days for millions of people who have undertaken one of the greatest causes you can ... who defend our freedoms and our rights and they don't know most of us.
They sacrifice time. They sacrifice relationships. They sacrifice their health. They sacrifice their lives.
And we ignore them most days of the year.
It's time to make those left behind and those who continue to serve visible, not invisible. It's time to give them credit for all they do. We owe them that.
It's not about the BBQs or the weekend. It's not about getting time to catch up on movies or do yardwork. It's not about getting a holiday.
This Memorial Day, don't forget to remember those who sacrificed and who are left behind. Don't forget to remember that they are people and not just numbers.
Landon Jones and Jon Gibson were husbands, fathers, and sons. They died for our country. They have left behind wives, sons, and daughters. They have left behind fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. They have left behind friends and family.
We can't fill the hole they've left. But we can remember them and strive to take care of those they can no longer care for themselves. If we are truly as great a country and people as we claim to be, this is the least of what we can do.
Thank you to those who have sacrificed so much for myself and my loved ones. Thank you to the families who have lost so much. I can never repay you. I can't heal your wounds. I can't stop the pain.
But I can remember.