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  • Writer's pictureIan Galipeau

Reflections on Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. In New England, it's a day that marks the unofficial start of summer. A day when people gather with family and friends at cookouts and barbecues. A day when some people indulge in a shallow caricature of Toby-Keith-style patriotism. But I hope it's also a day for reflection, and I hope you've been able to set aside a few minutes to really contemplate what Memorial Day is about.

This is a day that is set aside to honor members of the armed forces who've passed in service to their country -- the hundreds of thousands of Americans over the last 250 years who have died in combat, or in training, or In some capacity serving their country. They laid their life down for a cause greater than the individual... they died for the idea of The United States of America, believing that whatever their country was asking of them was worthy of their sacrifice.

When I think about that, I feel a great sense of responsibility. This place I live in - the land itself, and the collective story that binds us together - in all its beauty and imperfection, on our proudest days and our darkest ones... It exists only because other people believed deeply enough to die protecting it. There are plenty of things I don't agree with that our military has done, and I lay the blame for those things squarely at the feet of the leaders who ordered them. But the individuals who carried out those orders and died as a result... I find that incredibly noble.

On the precipice of my 36th birthday, I am thinking about how the vast majority of the people we honor today died violently and prematurely, at about half of my age. They were children, and they were motivated by an idealism that I find enviable. There are days when I wish I could see things as black and white as "follow the orders, complete the mission" but the older you get the more you see through that dichotomy. I'm turning gray, in more ways than one. And so I reflect, with a heavy heart, on whether the country I participate in every day is a reflection of the ideas those children died to protect. And I feel responsible for working, in whatever small way I can, to make sure my country lives up to the ideas it purports to stand for.

Part of that means taking care of the veterans who come back from the conflicts carried out in our name. It's a horrific fact that in post-9/11 wars, five times more service members have died by suicide or overdose then died in combat. A few years back, I wrote a song called "Soldier's Lullaby" with my friend Jon Braught, which I released last Memorial Day (at the urging of a fan-turned-friend who served in the Middle East). It's not a Memorial Day song, but more of a Veteran's Day song that breathes some life into that statistic. And it's a painful song to hear, and a painful song to perform... Because every time I do, I'm forced to reckon with the thought that we could do so much better. And that we need to do better.

So whatever "doing better" means to you... if there's something you envision as a step towards "a more perfect union" - I hope you'll take that step. If you're concerned about division, consider ways you can support measures that are shown to reduce partisanship, like ranked-choice voting. If you're frustrated by vapid, alarmist, polarized news media owned by advertisers... look at non-profit solution-oriented journalism, and pay for your news. If you're concerned about school curriculums, pay close attention to your local elections, to make sure your school board reflects the values of your community. If you're concerned about vulnerable populations, seek out opportunities to volunteer at a food bank or a shelter.

It's far from perfect in execution, but the idea of the United States of America is something I find beautiful. And I believe I have a responsibility to the Americans who died in service to that idea to bring it closer to fruition, every day.

Have a nice Memorial Day.

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