It happens every Memorial Day.
I should think of them more often, but I rarely do.
The ones who died in battle, or during their tour of so-called “duty.”
Yes, if it were up to me I would do a lot of things differently re. our national policies and practices. Wouldn’t we all? For me, it would look more like two years of compulsory service (minimum) to the nation starting at age 19. Could be military. Could be civilian. The years could be extended on a voluntary basis in exchange for free public post-secondary education up through doctoral degree in a field of shortages. But it would be about serving what I consider to be the responsibilities of citizenship in exchange for the rights of citizenship.
My thoughts on Memorial Day, however, veer in the direction of those fallen soldiers who took on their civic responsibilities but failed to receive their rights in return. They were marginalized so others could become, or remain, privileged. For them it was all give and no take.
How fair is that?
The great tragedy of American life, perhaps no different from most other lands, is that we are now inching our way back to separate, unequal classes of people. Those with most of the rights. And those with most of the responsibilities. Those who do most of the taking. And those who do most of the giving. Those like the fallen soldiers we are called to remember on Memorial Day.
My thought on this occasion is that we who enjoy the rights of American citizenship had better take on this responsibility: that is, doing more than just remembering the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers one day a year. That we, as the Hebrew prophet Micah put it in ancient times re. his own nation of Judah, “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our Lord” (Micah 6:8). Which, as Micah’s own Lord was then saying, is everyone’s responsibility.
That would mean equal responsibilities. Equal sacrifices.
No more rights OR responsibilities.
If America dares to dream of having liberty and justice for all, then Memorial Day will be more than a time for remembering those who gave up their rights and took on their responsibilities so others could take up their rights and give up their responsibilities (like things too often are in our times).
There comes a new time when redeeming is more important than mere remembering. And if we are to offer redemption to those who have served and fallen in battle, perhaps the least we can do is work toward an equal sharing of citizen responsibilities.
Because rights or responsibilities has always been, even from the time of the ancient prophet, the wrong question to pose. And because there can be no rights for anyone without responsibilities, we must ask the correct question.
How can we ever redeem the loss of our fallen soldiers unless we change our policies and practices to achieve equal rights AND responsibilities?