What a difference five years makes. In 2001, Memorial Day was a time for for barbecues, a breather at the end of the school year and a time to look to the summer with anticipation or, in the case of Valley residents, with dread.
The holiday’s deeper meaning was connected to conflicts that were receding further and further into the past.
On May 29, 2001, Americans were transfixed by soaring electricity costs in California and a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing disabled pro golfer Casey Martin to ride a cart during tournaments.
That day at another court in New York, four followers of Osama bin Laden were convicted of embarking on a global campaign to kill Americans, including the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people.
Justice closed one door on that conspiracy, only to have another one blown open by the same brand of extremism three months later.
Now, tragically, the ranks of young men and women who’ve given their lives to protect our nation are growing again. The number of fighters lost in Afghanistan and Iraq is approaching the toll of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Because of the sacrifices of Americans in uniform, the Memorial Day weekend is still a day of rest and recreation for those of us stateside.
Arizona has gone about its business these last three days, visiting the Orange County Choppers in Tempe, watching professional basketball players and “professional” wrestlers face off at US Airways Arena, building their own fences along international borders.
They have also gathered for commemorations at National Memorial Cemetery in north Phoenix, the Gilbert Historical Society, Mesa Cemetery, and churches, graveyards, parks and other life centers, to honor those who have perished while fighting to preserve our union.
Some have been families who have had to steel themselves against their first Memorial Day that honors a parent, spouse, child or friend they thought would always be there.
Maybe the best way to recognize what these brave men and women have done for us is to do a little of each: Live our lives and follow our hearts and minds to what engages us in our free time; but also step out of it for an hour or two, into a space that is reserved for the fallen.