Friday, May 24, 2019

Picnic Shaming: Return of the Memorial Day Preachers

John Adams
Every year, it grinds my gears. I am okay with the people who correctly point out that one is not supposed to thank living soldiers, Marines and sailors on Memorial Day. (The veterans I know find it embarrassing, in fact.) The ones who annoy me are those who shame people for having a good time, either with their words or with their tone. When did blatant condescension become okay?

Oh, sure, you can argue that they are only indicating that we should stop for a minute during our celebrations to remember the fallen. But that's not the way it is presented. It's presented with a self-righteous snottiness that used to be reserved for people in, high, gilded pulpits: "While you are cooking burgers and swimming and enjoying your extra days off, don't forget blah blah blah [I'm more patriotic than you] blah blah blah [note my depth] blah blah..."

I don't use profanity on this blog but I just almost recommended a particular kind of simultaneously giving and receiving intimate act to these people. But I shan't.

I guess their intentions are good, but I'll bet they would be mad at me if I hit them with Tweeted and Instagrammed rhetoric that shamed them for not saying grace before meals. I wonder, too, if the Memorial Day Preachers "keep Christ in Christmas;" or, if they, themselves, are annoyed by those who remind them to. Shouldn't everyone stop to give thought of thanks for the struggling farmers of America before each cob of corn consumed? I think so, but I don't blather about it.

It's all preaching, right?

But here's the crux of it, for me. I think it is all a symptom of our slow (but, now, almost complete) transition into the acceptance of unabashed praise-seeking: teachers posting memes about how wonderful teachers are; nurses doing the same; parents glorifying their life-long sacrifices by linking to articles about the trials of raising kids... Blech.

I wonder how my great uncles, who fought (and, some of whom, died) in WWII, feel when they look down on the toddlers eating hot dogs and freeze pops; at the families splashing, carefree, in their pools; teenagers on the beach throwing Nerf footballs... I wonder if my great uncles are outraged.

Or, I wonder, having come from a culture that emphasized duty, dignity and humility, if they smile down on the freedom they won for us; the freedom that they can see in full bloom. I wonder if they rest in peace knowing they helped secure a world in which people could wind up being so happy that they sometimes forget to credit the source of that happiness.

John Adams once said:

"I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

In short, we, of the present, suffer trials so that we can bring our descendants closer to lives of joy and art and intellectuality. I don't think the fallen warriors of the past begrudge us our picnics. And maybe their reward is simply seeing that life they earned for their future sons and daughters. Maybe they wouldn't demand praise as much as we do today. (I'd bet my left thumb on it.) 

I once heard a mom say that her job was to be the kind of mother her kids took for granted. Does anyone think like that anymore? Does anyone do the right thing without an aim at recognition or praise?

I know it is a bit of a paradox. I do feel the need to be thankful for the sacrifices of the fallen. And, being a real-live grown-up, I'll be thankful in my own way, thanks very much. (In fact, I have written about that gratitude. Have all of the Picnic-Shamers put real time into their memorial activities, I wonder -- beyond retweets and shared links and memes?)

In the end, I refuse to be judged for laughing and playing on a day dedicated to the dead, because that's exactly what they died for. What happens in my prayers and thoughts is up to me, not to some condescending re-imagination of an Anglican preacher standing outside a theater and denouncing the "sins of the stage" to people who just want to see a good play and forget their troubles for awhile.

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