So today is Memorial Day 2016. We spent most of the day traveling home after visiting family, so it is late in the day when I finally get to think about the meaning of the day. Sad enough to say, it seems that I have only just started looking into the day’s history in the last few years. While there are theories on who began the tradition that became the holiday, I choose to take some time and reflect on the why of the day. I do that not to deny the history of anyone, but because it is in the why where we find our common ground.
Today is the day to remember those who died while serving in the US military. I happen to live in a navy town. It is strange as this navy town is in the middle of California’s Central Valley, and not an ocean in sight. So when I think of Memorial day, I think of the people I do life with. I see them when we hear of an F-18 crash on the news. I watch them come together when one of their own dies. This is what Memorial Day means to me on the most personal level.
A couple of weekends ago my husband and I went to the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California. While we were there, he was able to check out the trains, and I was able to walk around and see the people who were there for a Civil War reenactment. At one point a man asked if I would like to see some of the artifacts that he had, and I of course was interested. He put into my hand a 12 pound ball that was part of a battle in Fredericksburg, Virginia. As I stood there holding the rather large and heavy ball, the man went on and gave more information about the ball and the other items he had. I really did not hear much of what he said, as I was concentrating on what I was holding. I thought about the ball, and how heavy it was. I could imagine the speed it would have, as it hurtled through the air only to hit the ground and bounce for a time. I thought of the Civil War documentaries I had seen, and all of the carnage balls like these had created on a battlefield. I wondered if the ball had killed someone, taken off an arm or even a leg. I was not able to handle it any longer, and gave it over to my husband. We listened for just a bit longer, and then left the gentleman dressed in Confederate grey. It made me melancholy for a while, and I knew that I could never be a part of a reenactment. For me, the whole thing seemed very weird, not good or bad, just weird. We went on to take more pictures and see the other exhibits there in the museum, but it wasn’t until we got home that I realized what I had done.
I took the picture that is attached. I was really trying to get a good picture of the box car and tree, but there in the side was the cannon. It was sitting there waiting for the reenactment, and I had gotten it into my picture by accident. Since the whole reenactment thing left me feeling the way it did, I really did not want the cannon in my picture. The problem was, I did not like the picture when we cropped the cannon out. So I left it and did not think of it again until maybe Thursday, when it dawned on me that Memorial day was quickly approaching. It felt appropriate. I do not particularly like what Memorial Day makes me remember, but I know that is the whole point. To remember what we lose through war, to remember the sacrifice made by many. I think war sucks, but like my cannon silently sitting in the wings, I know it sneaks into the picture even when we don’t want it. So I am thankful for those who make the ultimate sacrifice, and pray for those who are left behind.