What exactly is a 'happy' Memorial Day?

Can a Memorial Day be happy? Isn’t the essence of the concept to reflect, to introspect, to national-spect? I find that with national-specting comes a bit of shame, a dash of pride and a whole lotta tears either way.

To some, Israeli and American Memorial Days might be categorized as fraternal twins, if related at all. I would categorize them as not even making it to drastically different. They are more like completely separate concepts. And the primary reasons make sense:

1. Size of the country: Israel has about six million or so remembering while the United States has… a lot more people not remembering.

2. Content: Whatever Israelis are remembering, it happened within the century and most likely less than 60 years ago. Every non-charedi community has some sort of tekes happening, while most people would at least acknowledge the sirens that go off in the evening and morning. In the States, people are not as likely to give the last century much of a thought, nevermind the country’s humble – and bloody – beginnings.

3. People personality: Israelis and Americans have completely different national personalities. In the face of diversity, most Israelis somehow wind up identifying with the national loss. Israelis are a bunch of people plucked from a rainbow, huddled together in the corner of the room. Americans have no one face of diversity; what keeps them different keeps them apart.

4. Process: There is no process for most Americans, who probably don’t know any soldiers past or present anyway. I heard on the radio – maybe it was NPR even – announcements regarding the efforts the President was making today, and how he asked all Americans to pause at 3pm in their respective time zones. It’s hard to feel the silence when a couple states over your neighbors are still munching on BBQ. Israelis have an incredible, real, raw process that actually goes on for most of the year. The difference in the day is that there is a harmony of grown men’s tears.

Well, here I am in the United States for Memorial Day, a three-day weekend that has been relatively quiet. I myself am one of those removed Americans… waiting for a process to draw my tears.

American self discovery (finally, a use for my English major)

I finished Slaughterhouse-Five today on my way across Jerusalem. One of the most finger-pointing themes of the book – relevant to me these days – is expressed in the following lines, by character Howard W. Campbell Jr., as he describes American prisoners of war compared to others.

“[Americans] were known everywhere to be the most self-pitying, least fraternal, and dirtiest of all… They were incapable of concerted action on their own behalf. They despised any leader from among their own number… on the grounds that he was no better than they were…” (pg 131)

Reading between the lines, I can’t help but agree with author Vonnegut in his description of the American sense of self. There is an awful lot of self pitying and individualism, to the point of selfishness. Very little of the collective. Not much is  bigger than your own self. I’m all for defining your own individuality, but also incorporating the collective that surrounds us.

The longer I’m here, outside the U.S. – away from that mentality – the more patient I’ve become, accepting and aware of the higher powers in my universe. I don’t feel that I’m owed anything; in fact, I feel lucky when given some kind of rite or favor. My work ethic has expanded from plain working hard to working hard as part of a greater society, where I must work hard for the greater good. I am responsible for myself, and when things don’t go my way – well, that’s just life.  

I appreciate what the last three years in Israel have taught me about my American self and my other-word self. I think that it’s when you step out of your self that you can truly realize what you are composed of.

And for now, I’m ok with what I’m finding.