mawkish memorial day metaphor

Did my bit yesterday. You know…the ritual of tending the graves for Memorial Day. It’s supposed to be a holiday created by a grateful nation to honor the men and women who died while in military service. Some folks are grateful enough to visit cemeteries, large and small in every corner of the nation, to plant a flag on the grave of every veteran. It’s a pretty idea, isn’t it.

But let’s face it, the nation really isn’t all that grateful, and it’s been years since the holiday was about dead veterans. Modern Memorial Day is more a celebration of consumerism than anything else — like most American holidays. But it’s also expanded beyond its original purpose. There’s still a lot of tending to graves, but it’s no longer limited to veterans.

I’m fine with that. It’s nice to have a day set aside for remembering the dead, whoever they are, however they died. That’s especially true now, when the butcher’s bill for Covid-19 will almost certainly top 100,000 in the next week. Maybe next year somebody will plant a flag on the grave of every Covid-19 victim. I think we, as a nation, will need to find some way to express both our horror and our collective grief at the loss of so many lives. Right now it seems we’re either in shock or denial of the enormity of what’s happening. The fact that it’s still happening — that the pandemic is ongoing — makes it difficult to process. Some events are too catastrophic to comprehend until after they’ve finished, until we know how they end.

Yesterday I visited half a dozen different cemeteries — some in the city, some in the burbs, some in the middle of farmland. Some were nicer than others, some better tended, some busy with other Memorial Day caretakers, some weren’t. I helped tend to graves of family and friends, even those of a few strangers, only about half of whom were veterans.

As usual, I shot a few photographs. I generally delete most of the photos I shoot, especially on Memorial Day.  How many photos do you need of gravestones and flags?

This morning I looked at the photos I shot yesterday. I deleted all but a few. Two of them struck me. One, shot in an urban cemetery, was of the rows and rows of flags — a reminder that there was a time when it was common for American men to do a few years of military service, that it was seen as an honorable thing to do. The other photo was of the farmland just outside a rural cemetery, rows and rows of seedlings growing.

Rows of flags, rows of crops. There are metaphors in those two photos. They’re mostly trite, mawkish metaphors, almost embarrassingly sincere, but they’re also honest. Which is more than I can say for a lot of what we see on Memorial Day. 

10 thoughts on “mawkish memorial day metaphor

    • Thank you. For years, I tried to find a balance between cynicism and pragmatism, but as I get older I find myself tottering on the cusp of sappy sentimentality. Which is somewhat alarming.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I found that if you’re tending a grave, it doesn’t really matter whose grave it is. My ex came with me on Thursday, so at point I found myself tending the graves of her second husband’s parents. I’ve absolutely no idea who they were. But I must have retained some of that Buddhist training because that whole ‘chop wood, carry water’ thing took over. You tend one grave, you tend all the graves in the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. A beautiful pairing of photos, and I agree: anything but mawkish. Emotion and honor needn’t be seen as sentimental. They are, as you observe, honest. Which is saying a lot these days.


    • As I get older, I find it more difficult to draw the line between honest sentiment and sappy sentimentalism. I’m telling myself the line doesn’t really matter, and that the line really isn’t a line at all.


    • Thanks. I confess, I’d started to write about each photo and how they related to each other — then realized it was stupid to try to tell folks how to interpret a photo. People see what they see, which is exactly how it should be.


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