On this bright, warm Memorial Day, the extended family will gather for a cookout at my place.
I’ll fire up the grill and barbeque the equivalent of my body weight in burgers and hot dogs. We will consume epic amounts of food while bemoaning the state of America and the world – both of which, everyone knows, are going to hell on a handbasket. Some of us, the baseball nuts, might instead enthuse over the play of the Washington Nationals, who are losing fewer games than we have come to expect.
Family, food, idle conversation. There will be no thought that we can be interrupted by an oppressive power – that, as in North Korea, the police might decide to put us all away for life, or that, as in Israel, a terrorist’s missile might end the festivities in bloodshed.
It is customary on Memorial Day to offer a tribute to those who died to preserve our way of life. Allow me to do so by memorializing my own homely corner of that life.
The glue which holds it together is freedom. This is true in ways we take wholly for granted.
Because of America’s bountiful economy, which rewards hard work, we are free to take the supermarkets by storm, and heap majestic mountains of ground beef on the shopping cart to immolate in our celebration.
Because we all own cars and the roads are safe, we are free to move about as we feel like. Once everyone arrives for the cookout, my driveway will resemble a parking lot – a scene repeated in home after home in America’s neighborhoods.
We are free to say what we wish about any subject under the sun. We are free to gather or scatter, protest or applaud, demand or reject. We can worship God or mock him. In all humility, we should remember the many places on earth where none of these actions are tolerated today.
Our worries are those of a free people. We’ll complain about the economy while eating our fill and taking our leisure. We’ll rail about the rascals in Washington, perfectly aware they can be turned out at the next election. We’ll bore one another about our nagging aches and maladies, while taking the pills that make us better.
A life totally free of compulsion is neither possible nor desirable. The duties we owe to each other must compel us to act in specified ways. The love of parents, children, siblings, even of inlaws, will place burdens on us which we should accept gladly, and reduce our freedoms, which we should yield with grace and a minimum of regret.
But in this space where freedom meets morality, the lack of fear and external compulsion adds a glorious glow to the humblest manifestations of American life.
Our Memorial Day is unique in its conclusion. We live a mile from an outdoor concert hall, which starts the performance season with spectacular fireworks. After we have eaten far too much, and blabbed ourselves into a stupor, we’ll stumble out to the deck, look up to the night sky, and behold a visual representation of the pride and joy and gratitude we feel in our hearts.