My New and Improved Memorial Day

September 27, 2010
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The one thing that flashes in my mind when I hear Memorial Day, is the word memories. Everyday has its memories. But this day, especially, has some of the best. I remember speeding past the world around me while zip lining 50 feet up in the air. The wind blew through my hair, tangling it into a mess. I spent a few of my Memorial Days rushing to bump the volleyball over the net to the opposing team as beads of salty sweat streamed down my sunburned face. I was often hit in the face, though. Some years I would wake up at the crack of dawn and racing to the mall to get the best sales. At the end of the day, my feet would be covered in blisters from all the running. My Memorial Days went at an Allegro pace instead of an Andante. But why should it not? This is the 21st century, where things have gotten faster and faster, right? But then, one year, life brought me a new movement to play.

One unusually warm spring, our school had organized an assembly on the lifestyle of the soldiers who fought in the Civil War on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. The weather was perfect for a relaxing dip in the pool, not a tiresome afternoon cooking ourselves in the sun. My shirt had changed from a grayish blue, to a shade that navy officers wore. Almost all of us were on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion. There was just one thought going on in all of our minds, Why do these teachers hate us? The one hour presentation seemed to have been taking the whole school day. Trying to be as respectful as I could, I refrained from excessive side conversation. But at that point, I felt that I could not hold out any longer. The man dressed in an artillery uniform kept on rambling on and on about the harsh conditions soldiers had to live in. “They only got nine pieces of crackers a day and a tiny piece of salty beef.”

“Okay,” I muttered under my breath. “We get the point; life was difficult back then. But this is the 21st century; we have a much more comfortable lifestyle. Why in the world do we need to learn this?” I turned to chat with my friends behind me.

“Can’t we just go inside, where there’s air condition?” asked Grace. I gave an over exaggerated sigh, and turned around. The heat was so unbearable that I was ready to run to Science class, my least favorite subject. But at that very moment, our group had to move on to the next station, where an African American man was standing in another artillery uniform. I could hear some of the troublemakers comment on his race.

“I’m surprised they weren’t all shot down by the Southerners,” one commented.

The kid next to him replied, “Well now we can see when exactly the mud got into our military.”

No matter how much I detested standing here for this assembly, I never liked the idea of racism. But the last thing I wanted to do is start an argument and get unwanted attention, so I did not say anything. The man up front had introduced himself as a sergeant and said, “I would like to talk about the role of African Americans in the Civil War.”

Once again one of the boys in the back explained to his friends, “They were the slaves. Duh!” The boy’s obnoxiousness aggravated me, but I keenly listened to what the man had to say. So far most of the information presented to us had been a repeat. But never once have I learned much about the African American soldiers in the war. I thought that they would fear for their lives. From that assembly I realized that I was wrong.

“The African Americans soldiers were not able to fight earlier in the Civil War, and when they were allowed, they couldn’t fight with the whites. Still they played their part as a soldier with immense passionate,” explained the presenter. Those words truly surprised me. Moments ago, I was ready to get out of this assembly, now I was absorbed into it. Of course the heat still bothered me, but now I did not give it much thought. The speaker went on to say, “These men were ready to risk their lives so that their kit and kin could live freely.” These words hit me in the heart. In worse circumstances than I was in that day, those former slaves fought at the battlefront to make sure that other slaves could be entitled to a freedom they very much deserve. And here I was, fanning myself with my hands, thinking that there is no environment worse than this. My friends and I were so caught up in the feel of the cool air condition that would be on when we would enter the building after the program, that many of us had not paid much attention to any part of it except for this. As I stood in awe just thinking about the courage it took for those African Americans to fight against their very own masters, the program conclude with a viewing of the 22nd Colored Regiment of the Union Army’s flag. Our teachers called for us to return to our classes. On the way inside, I walked alongside my friends. Instead of running towards the air conditioned haven, we took our time, letting ourselves soak in the blazing Sun and what we had just learned.

Back in the school, everyone went about the regular day, trying their best to come home with something valuable learned. I had already learned something today, something that I would hold onto for the rest of my life. At the end of the day, I hopped onto the bus and rode it down the same streets where soldiers may have marched for our country.

At home, I changed my plans to shorten my time at Dorney Park the next day. I reasoned with my mother saying, “Riding too many lightening speed rollercoasters isn’t good for you anyway.” She could not argue with that. I walked up the staircase, entered my room, and logged on to my email on my computer. After some dilemma, I place the computer mouse over the button that said Gmail Status and clicked. In the text box I wrote, Remember the brave men and women who fought and are still fighting to protect our freedom. From that day onward, I looked at Memorial Day in a new light. I did not just relive memories from previous Memorial Days, but I also commemorated the memories of our nation’s soldiers. I made it a point to read the Memorial Day links on Google. I always have so much time on such holidays, why not spend a little of it learning about the people who have shaped our country.

Like any other holiday, Memorial Day has its times for entertainment. Kayaking through rapids, climbing intimidating rock walls, or sitting in front of your television and watching some comedies could be how you spend your Memorial Day, and there is nothing wrong with that. Breaks from our hectic day to day schedule are made so that we can enjoy. But, what makes Memorial Day unique is that enjoyment must also be balanced with respect and acknowledgement. It is crucial that we look back into the past of our nation not to just learn about what soldiers have done, but also to commemorate their sacrifices. Through experience I have learned that riding my bike fast than the cars on our local road can have a place in my Memorial Day schedule, but I should spend some time to appreciate what all our brave soldiers have done for our country. I have learned to play my ritardando.

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