"Have a happy Memorial Day."
"Thanks. You, too."
It seemed innocent enough, this exchange of pleasantries. I was just leaving the doctor's office after a routine checkup, thinking about how I would spend my weekend, passing car dealers and shopping centers touting Memorial Day sales.
It's been a pleasant week down here in Florida. The weather's been cooperative. While moving into a new house is exhausting work, all the contractors and craftspeople we've worked with have been unfailingly helpful and warm, the house is shaping up nicely, and my wife and I are having a great time meeting all the challenges of new home ownership.
So for Denise and me, it's shaping up to be an altogether happy Memorial Day.
Not so much for thousands of other families in America and throughout the world.
Thousands of families have lost their loved ones in America's many war zones throughout the world. Thousands of families grieve. Even more remember.
For many of those families, the pain of loss isn't so immediate. Maybe they lost someone on September 11, 2001. Or maybe they lost a father, son, husband, boyfriend, mother, daughter, wife, girlfriend, or just a dear friend in many of America's wars throughout the decades.
I remember. I recently lost one of my longest, oldest, bestest friends, a man who'd been trained by the Navy to run nuclear reactors. He'd done well in the Navy, but not so well after his time of service had ended. He paid the ultimate sacrifice in one of the the saddest ways possible.
I remember. I also recently lost another of my very good friends. He'd worked with me, gamed with me, and helped me fix things when I got a little carried away with power tools. He'd done well as such things are measured in America's middle class, married a woman he loved (and who fiercely loved him back), but my friend died far before his time from a defect in his heart he had since he was a baby.
As many Americans remember, so do many families throughout the world.
No matter what flag you fly, what doctrine of philosophy or religion or uniform you call your own, when someone you love, someone you care about, someone you share memories with dies, it touches a spot deep inside, a spot beyond national boundaries, a spot with only one possible label: "human".
For many in and out of uniform, this is a special year for memories (and vengeance).
America killed one of its demons, a weak, frail, nasty man named Osama bin Laden. For nearly a decade, he's somehow managed to elude America's grasp, and for nearly a decade, American leader after American leader has pointed towards the Middle East and blamed Osama for America's woes.
Some Americans celebrated bin Laden's death while other Americans turned against their own best interests, national security, and common sense and blamed America for eliminating one of its more troublesome enemies.
Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of any of theses battles, regardless of your personal belief about America's role in these conflicts, American soldiers put their lives on the line for what they truly believe is the good of the nation and their neighbors.
Some of these soldiers died, and whether you're pro-war or anti-war (as if those terms have any sense of meaning whatsoever), thousands of American soldiers have died and thousands of families remember.
America is a wonderful nation.
It's crass and commercial, self-aware and sensitive, gloriously unaware and selfish, deep and shallow, surprisingly vulnerable and incomprehensibly powerful, wealthy beyond measure and poor beyond heartbreak, inventive, regressive, astounding, disturbing, fascinating, boring, diverse, discriminatory, defensive, proud, stupid beyond words and brilliant beyond bound.
America is wonderful and all of that can be seen in how we celebrate Memorial Day. Memorial Day was intended as a day of remembrance and honor, and yet, it's become a day of celebration and commercialism.
To those of you who think that's bad, who think that's indicative of all that's wrong with America, it's you who are wrong.
For America is capable of holding two diverse concepts in its heart and in its mind at one time. It's the mix of crassness with wonder, the mix of remembrance with parking lot sales that is America.
It's what our troops have fought for. It's what our society has accomplished, it's what has made America into America. For without our commercialism, without our crassness, and yes, without our individual selfishness, we would not have accomplished what we have, become who we are, and laid the groundwork for the nation we have yet to become.
To all who serve this great nation, thank you. To all those families who remember, thank you, too. And to the guy at the local supermarket who priced that awesome-looking, 2-inch thick rib eye at half off, thank you, too.
It's going to be a very happy Memorial Day.