This Memorial Day weekend, when our neighbors were out having a blast camping, cooking out, and enjoying themselves, I was here at the house holding two long yard sales on Saturday and Sunday morning. I'm not a morning person generally, so yard sales require a lot of commitment from me--getting up early and setting up to be ready by 8am is not really my idea of fun. I managed to sell a lot of things that have been cluttering up our garage, so that was good--although I still have a lot more work to do in the garage, and even more to sell. I'm still happy with the progress, so even though it wasn't the most-fun long weekend we've ever had, at least it was productive.
The last few Memorial Days have been a struggle for my emotions. I remember being a kid and enjoying the extra day off school, the neighborhood pools opening for the summer, and having water balloon fights in the front yard--and my dad having a big cookout on the back deck. Even though I grew up in a military family, I don't think I fully understood what Memorial Day was--the blessing of not having been exposed to the kind of losses honored on Memorial Day. My dad deployed often and fought in the first Desert Storm, but that was a thankfully short-lived conflict and the 6-month deployments were not to places of much danger. I was fortunate to have been sheltered from the pain of losing someone to war, but now as a military spouse in a time where war is the norm (and so weirdly, my children have never been alive when the US was not at war), being sheltered is not an option. The meaning of Memorial Day hit home for me the moment I learned that Dan would be deploying to Iraq for the first time in 2003--when the possibility of losing someone I loved so much became a daily reality. I waited weeks for letters, months for a phone call--never knowing if one day those letters and phone calls would stop. I planned our wedding while Dan was still in Iraq, with the fear of having to call vendors and explain that there would no longer be a wedding because my fiance was not coming home. Dan's company commander was killed during that tour, in a mortar attack that hit the base where Dan was living--while Dan was running to seek shelter amid exploding mortar rounds, he dropped his helmet, which rolled away from him...he backtracked to pick it up when a mortar hit just a few feet in front of him--exactly where Dan would have been had his helmet not fallen from his grasp. We often talk about the guardian angels who must have been looking out for both of us that day--and my heart breaks when I think of the phone call Dan's company commander's fiancee received, and the cancelling of wedding vendors (not to mention all the hopes and dreams she had for their life together) that she had to endure. Dan had gotten internet access just a few weeks prior to that attack, and when I didn't hear from him for a few days (once he got internet, I was spoiled with almost daily emails), I googled everything I could about the region where he was--and learned of the attack via small blurb buried deep in a news article late one night. I came down the stairs at my parents' house, feeling absolutely stricken--I just had a feeling that something had gone terribly wrong. I told my mom that I thought Dan was dead, that I feared the worst, and we cried. I've never been so relieved to receive an email in my life when I finally heard from him two days later.
Memorial Day does mark the unofficial beginning of summer, and it is a fun long weekend with family and friends. It's also a day that reminds me of how fortunate I've been as I've lived this military life, and reminds me that so many other families are not fortunate. They don't get the emails from their loved ones to alleviate their fears--they don't get the joyful, tearful homecomings at the end of a long, lonely deployment. Memorial Day is about honoring the sacrifices of those who give their lives and their families (who give their lives in a different way), and feeling so grateful for everything I still have--my husband, the father of my children, and my best friend right here next to me.