What comes to mind when you think about Memorial Day weekend? Do you think about the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers and the loved ones they left behind? I'm sad to say that I didn't. For 20 years my focus during any type of holiday revolved around marketing, merchandising, getting customers in the store and selling as much product as possible. As a retail manager, my focus was not about the true meaning of the holiday, but rather making sales goal for the day. Unfortunately, it kept me from taking time to reflect about the importance of each holiday and that included Memorial Day.
I no longer work outside the home, because I now care for my husband who is a paralyzed veteran. My entire focus has changed and I wanted to do something to truly honor those who have given their life for the freedoms we enjoy in the USA. Although my husband has served and is now injured, I am blessed to have him with me everyday. I can see him, talk with him, laugh with him, hug him or just sit quietly with him. I have him in my presence. Many families no longer have that and I'll be the first to admit that I can't begin to comprehend their loss. How do they feel when the focus of Memorial Day is around a 3-day weekend, BBQ's and retail sales rather than honoring their fallen soldier?
Carry the Load http://carrytheload.org/splash/ is a non-profit organization trying to restore the meaning of Memorial Day. Each year starting on April 30, the National Relay travels over 2,000 miles to honor families of our nation's fallen heroes. It starts at West Point and ends in Dallas, TX. The relay route is broken into 348 legs and each leg is an opportunity for people to join the team as it comes through their neighborhood. You can walk it on your own or get a group of friends together to walk a 2 hour leg.You can do fundraising or simply give your time by walking. You can walk as little or as much as you are comfortable with. I intended to walk about 30 minutes, because I was going alone and I didn't have a ride back to my car. Plus at 4am in the morning it's very dark outside, because here in the country there's no city lights to illuminate the road unless you count the reflection of a deer or armadillo's eyes when your headlights shine on them!
When I met up with the relay group from Carry the Load and the soldiers that were participating, I was energized. I saw the huge charter bus with the logo and images of soldiers and first responders on it and thought about how many cities it had traveled through. I promise that the bus didn't drive us and that we actually walked the route. I saw the team carrying the U.S. flag along with the Carry the Load flag and I started reflecting on how this small part of my day was a little sacrifice compared to what our soldiers do for us.
Our local group was a small group of 9 people, but I imagine that was partly due to the 4am start time as well a need for more marketing in our area. Once we completed the 2 hour leg (5 miles), we had a photo-op for Carry the Load's website as well as the local newspaper. Then we had the pleasure of signing the Carry the Load banner. I would guess that about 500 people had signed before us and we all had a common goal in mind. Some of us have military family members and some didn't, but what we all had in common was the desire to honor our nation's heroes. Unfortunately, the word "hero" is thrown around too casually in our society. It's used to describe celebrities, sports icons or musicians, but few of them have laid down their life for another. Let's take the focus back of what Memorial Day is about: taking time to remember those who served and given the ultimate sacrifice.
Thank you to all the men and women of the Armed Forces-past, present and future.