There is a picture in my head this Memorial Day weekend. It is of some guys standing around a grill. The BBQ ribs are smoldering causing people to gather around the surrounding area to chat. Laughter is prevalent, smiles are plentiful. Children run around playing tag. Dogs’ tails are wagging. The sizzle of the grill is the background music of the day. The melody is the laughter. The air is sweet, and a bit cool. A slight breeze is blowing the hair of the women of the group. The table is laden with dishes of all sorts, and as the group gathers around it, they bless the food.
One man stands, raises his bottle, and makes a toast towards the empty spots at the table, “Here’s to all those who have gone on before us.” It is a solemn and scared moment…a moment that is sensed even at the kids’ table. Silence follows and the seconds drag on into a minute or more of time travel. No matter the generation of soldier, the fog of war closes in and the battle is suddenly alive and real again. The sounds of explosions and bullet fire feel as close as the picnic knats buzzing in their ears. The movie screen of their minds is a vivid replay of the horrors of those days. The faces of their friends race to the forefront of the memories, the ones whom they would die for… who died for them. The horror of replaying the scene of their buddies dying brings tears and hard swallowing to the otherwise jovial picnic. They each hoist their own bottles in toast naming each fallen soldier from their group one by one. Once all the names have been called the bottles clink together. They look seriously into one another’s eyes with a look they all understand without a word. The intense gaze that says “We will never forget them, and I’d die for you still.” It is a bond shared by those who have fought side by side. They hold the bottles up for a second more before taking a swig and breaking the spell. The picnic is back in full swing when someone says, “Now pass me those ribs.”
It is a military picnic among a group who has experienced loss of life. It could be from any war, or any generation. It is Memorial Day for the survivors. Remembering the death of their friends, it is a picture of the pain of loss, but also of the life that goes on after. A party that the survivors know was paid for in the blood of their friends. A day set aside to remember them, honor them, and to live for them since they are not here to live it.
In my minds picture, the picnic goes on then, and at once the memories of life begin to flow out. They tell of practical jokes, and the funny stories of soldiers doing their jobs in hard circumstances and faraway places. They relive the LIFE of their friends, as a group. They tell the children about their fathers, the wives about their husbands. They paint a portrait that will be long remembered in the minds and hearts of those left behind, because it is Memorial Day…a day of remembrances.