Thank You From Those Who Remain

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The principles which undergird Memorial Day were once widely understood by even the least engaged American citizen, because we lived them out in our day-to-day lives. Concepts like posterity, honor, and the ultimate deferral of gratification – sacrifice, were common virtues that were taught and applied in the humblest of settings.

Despite coordinated efforts to subvert and “dismantle” such virtues, they have yet to be fully snuffed out. They persist in a precarious state.

The other night, my neighborhood experienced a blackout during a thunderstorm after the sun had gone down. It was just my boys and I in the house, so I solved the problem in a manner my wife might not have appreciated, lighting a decorative triple candelabra that I’m pretty sure wasn’t meant to be lit. I used its meager light to search the house for flashlights, and then for batteries. My search took me in and out of the garage. When I opened the door, the shift in pressure caused a small shift in the air which wouldn’t typically be noticed but proved enough to threaten the flames on each candle. I had to take care to move deliberately enough to keep the lights aflame.

That may be an apt analogy for where we find ourselves in the West, and in the United States in particular. It takes far more care to keep the flames of virtue alive in the 21st century then it did in the 20th. And the consequence for letting those flames go out will be total darkness.

That’s what we should reflect upon this Memorial Day. We honor the sacrifice of those who gave the last full measure of devotion. But what does it mean to honor? A moment of silence? A minute of reflection? No. We honor the devotion of the fallen by modeling and promoting the virtues they embodied. We honor their devotion by valuing that which they were devoted to.

What is that exactly? Much. But distilled to its essence, those whose graves we adorn this Memorial Day were devoted to the eternal. They committed their mortal lives to that which will live on. That’s a radical idea in 2024, in the era of selfies, and influencers, and demands of affirmation. Many affecting our culture today present as virtue focus upon the self, the moment, the whim. To such folk, the notion of posterity gains no purchase. And that’s a two-way street. You can predict someone’s concern for posterity by examining their reverence for the past. It’s no coincidence that the same people eager to tear down statues and magnify our nation’s sins also exhibit anti-natalism. Lack of concern for the past fosters lack of concern for the future.

Our tribal neighbors have a leg up in that regard. Native tradition looks back seven generations behind and ahead seven generations into the future. Seeing ourselves as a link in a chain, which draws its strength from those who came before and those will come after, promotes the development of virtues which uphold life, and life well lived.

No one who signs up to place themselves in harms way, whether a soldier, sailor, airmen, marine, law enforcement officer, or other first responder, does so hoping that their story will end in the ultimate sacrifice. They do not serve to die. They serve to live. They serve to shape a world they want to live in, and to leave a world they want their children to live in.

That is how we should view the concept of sacrifice, not as a net loss, but as a net gain. It’s an investment in the world, an offering to the good, a leap of faith which rewards the future regardless of outcome to the actor.

Thank you, dear souls who have made that offering. Thank you, dear patriot families who have enabled such valor. Thank you and may we who remain prove worthy of your virtue.

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