This year in Georgia, Election Day and Memorial Day occurred within a one week period. The conjunction served as a reminder of how the two events are related. Interestingly enough, not one person wished me a Happy Election Day, and I did not see a single posting on Facebook with the same good cheer. Yet there were countless numbers of people who wished one another a Happy Memorial Day with similar numbers doing the same on Facebook.
Election Day is a holiday in some states. It was a day off from school in New York when I grew up because the vast majority of voting precincts were in public schools. We were taught each year the importance of that day, and we were reminded of those left behind in other places in other times who did their part to ensure that there would always be a day to vote. While Election Day was never known as an occasion to cook out, spend time at the beach or on the lake, it was nonetheless a day to quietly celebrate and honor a sacred right.
I sense that both Election Day and Memorial Day have evolved into something different. Each has lost some of their meaning. Just under twenty percent of Georgia voters turned out to cast ballots on May 20th. In Iraq and India the percentages were upwards of eighty percent or more in their recent elections. We have come to take the sacrifices for granted of those who answered the final roll call and rest eternally in cemeteries far and near. The Georgia Primary election provided for choices of representatives at almost all levels of government with many very significant issues affecting us. By way of example, teachers have been the object of budget cuts and furloughs for several years. You wouldn’t know that they were angry about it except for the LTEs and blogs, because as a voting bloc to send a message their voice was silent. Many accuse this, that or another group of voting as a bloc to win an election. Teachers could have done the same thing and sent a message to the governor on May 20th, but too many of them stayed home. I suspect that they have lost a lot of clout when the subject of budget cuts come up again next January. It’s easier to complain than to vote.
Those well-meaning people who wish others a Happy Memorial Day probably haven’t given it much thought. To me it is not a day of celebration even if we gather with families and friends to light up the barbeque and lift a glass or two. I am all for families and friends mixing it up on what should be a solemn day of reflection. I am just saddened that so many don’t really know the meaning of Memorial Day. I can’t imagine a greeting to have a Happy Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Happy 911 Day, or other such day calling for solemnity.
One rejoinder I heard was that wishing someone a Happy Memorial Day really was to say that they wished the person to experience happiness for the blessings of liberty provided by the war dead. That is certainly one person’s honest opinion, but when we wish people a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy New Year, Happy Fourth of July, etc., there is a common understanding of what that means. The same can’t be said about Memorial Day.
Times change. Without a draft fewer people have a genuine appreciation for sailing in harm’s way. It’s easier to sport “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers and to talk about one’s patriotism. Elections have become an inconvenience, and Memorial Day is just another holiday. It wasn’t always that way.