Did you know that it used to be common for families and friends to enjoy a fun Sunday afternoon outing, in of all places, the local cemetery? Up until the 1930’s it was a regular practice for families and friends to visit cemeteries for a relaxing picnic, a nap, and a place to play ball together. This is why the grounds of older cemeteries often contain many trees, green spaces, and ponds. Many historic cemeteries were among the first public parks in their cities. When people would gather to relax and recreate in cemeteries it was simply a wonderful way to both honor family members who had died and to have fun together.
The idea of families playing together at the cemetery comes to mind as our nation prepares to celebrate Memorial Day weekend. I love Memorial Day weekend because it combines two of the things I value most in life: honoring that which is sacred and having fun with others. In many parts of our country Memorial Day weekend marks the official beginning of summer, the season we usually associate with recreation and having fun. For many Americans, this weekend is a three-day weekend, which certainly increases the fun factor.
Having fun is just half of what Memorial Day weekend is about though. The other half, honoring that which is sacred, has of course to do with the reason for Memorial Day itself. Memorial Day originated as a day to remember both the Confederate and Union soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Over time it has become a day to honor all who gave the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in military service to our country.
The word sacrifice is derived from the word sacred. This makes perfect sense to me because when a person makes a sacrifice they are serving a higher good, something bigger than themselves–they are serving that which is sacred in life. People who make sacrifices inspire us because they are acting for a good that is far great than themselves.
This week alone I talked to several people who inspired me with their acts of sacrifice: I talked with two parents who care tirelessly for their children with special needs; a pastor who went out of his way to minister to a dying person who was not a member of his congregation; a woman who is caring for her aging parents; a trauma chaplain who works with the families of victims of violence, and a young woman whose husband is a Marine serving in Afghanistan. Each of these people reminds me of what is most sacred in this life.
Having fun can be sacred, too. When recreation is truly re-creative for ourselves and our relationships there is a genuine, sacred quality to it. Henry David Thoreau said, “He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul’s estate.” Sabbath time, time for genuine rest and renewal, is holy time. We improve our soul’s estate when we regularly take time to rest and play. We also improve our soul’s estate when we take time to honor the sacred, to remember the sacrifices that others have made for our greater good.
Happy Memorial Day weekend to all of you. While most of us may not end up having a picnic or playing ball at a local cemetery, hopefully we will take time to both remember all who have sacrificed to make our lives sacred and free today and to have fun with friends and family, thus being sure to “improve our soul’s estate”.