Memorial Day Reflections

Up here in the North, we wait a long time for Memorial Day Weekend and the beginning of those fleeting three months we call “summer”. As a lucky kid who loved the lake, baseball, golf, riding a bike and school vacation, summer was the best. My first W-2 came from a quintessential summer job – working for minimum wage in the “basket room” at the municipal pool, which meant cleaning the filter system, locker rooms and bathrooms, envying the lifeguards and all the while memorizing the radio soundtrack of the ‘70s. I’ve always looked forward to Memorial Day Weekend.

In recent years I’ve added a new tradition. I make it a point to re-read President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (copied below) and spend time really thinking about, for more than a passing moment, those who’ve gone before us, what they died for, and what they would now expect of us. When I was 17, I didn’t imagine life without my parents or good friends. I didn’t think much, outside of a few sessions in the classroom and a couple movies, about the millions of soldiers about my age whose lives were cut way short by wars fought to preserve peace and freedom. But life takes us all beyond that bubble – wars continue, parents pass away, so do good friends (as our beloved neighbor Jerry did last week), life gets complicated and we become much more aware of the sacrifices, including “the last full measure of devotion”, that have been made so that we could continue to enjoy Jefferson’s “certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Lincoln’s short speech on that bloody battlefield speaks across generations to us today, in this COVID crisis and in our antagonistic society. We’re all still part of that continuum of devotion and sacrifice. We can’t find deep enough words of gratitude to hallow or consecrate the work of front-liners. Our polarized country is at risk of becoming a battlefield in a great civil war testing whether our nation can long endure. The less optimistic among us could say we already have become that battlefield. So, now yet again, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

Lincoln’s immortal words at Gettysburg put forth the same challenge that emanates from the sacrifice and example of the Greatest Generation, from fallen soldiers of freedom across our entire history, from demanding teachers, coaches, leaders and mentors, and from COVID front-liners across our communities today. May we also rise to the challenge.

Be well and best wishes,

Paul Grangaard, Chairman & CEO

The full text of the Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery at the scene of the Battle of Gettysburg of the American Civil War on November 19, 1863.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.