A couple of months back, a young friend of mine asked me to answer a question for one of her school projects. The question was "What does the American Dream mean to you"? As I struggled to fully answer her question, I remembered a quote from the revolutionary patriot Thomas Paine that has always struck me as very profound. It was affecting to me as a college student when I first heard it, and it carries increasingly more weight with continued life experience. In trying to incite the common man to take up the cross of liberty and defiance against the English before the Revolutionary War, he said "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything it's value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon it's goods; and it would be strange indeed if such a celestial article of freedom should not be highly rated". Think about that for a moment. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. If it doesn't come at a cost, we don't truly appreciate it's value....and, if anything deserves to be valued, it is freedom.
You had better believe that my freedom is valuable to me. I PAID for that freedom. I paid for my freedom with the most valuable possession I had, my best friend and father of my child. I paid for my freedom with tears. There were the tears that fell as I watched my husband kiss our baby, quickly hug me, and then load onto a bus, headed for a country that I couldn't even imagine if I tried. Those tears awakened in me a sense of longing. There were the tears that fell as I sat across from two men in army uniform, as they informed me that he was never coming home. Those tears numbed me to the core. There were the tears that fell as I lay in bed that night, and felt the loneliness wash over me like a tidal wave so heavy that I thought I was doomed to be crushed. Those tears cut into me like a hot knife. There were the tears that fell as I sat in the shower after the funeral, tears that would not stop because it had taken a monumental feat to hold them in for an entire day. Those tears pushed me towards the very edge. There were the tears that fell as I stood hand in hand with a good friend whose husband had died with mine, as we forced ourselves to attend each and every memorial service for the soldiers from our husbands unit who died after they did. Those tears began to heal my heart. There are the tears that fall each and every time I stand to sing a patriotic song. "Oh, beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife. Who more themselves their country loved, and mercy more than life". Those tears make me feel proud.
So, what does Memorial Day mean to me? I will tell you what it does not mean. It does not mean a carefree day off of work, a light-hearted barbecue, a killer sale on mattresses, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, or a trip to the lake to water ski. It does mean that a whole lot of somebodies paid for my freedom, and one of those somebodies was pretty darn important.