How should we as UU parents explain Memorial Day to our children? Although UU’s are generally pacifistic, as our 6th Principle indicates (in the children’s language): Insist on Peace and Justice Around the World. However, individual UU’s have and do serve in the military (I did), and there are military families within our UU congregations.
Memorial Day is a day to remember the dead from all the wars our country has fought. I don’t know about you, but I have very conflicted feelings about much in American history – our country has done many things that were unfair or wrong or even horrible, and we modern Americans are the heirs to that legacy. Our country also has had many wonderful ideas and ideals and there were brave and courageous men and women who fought – in one way or another, if not always just physically – for those ideals. And we are the heirs to that legacy also.
And then there are all the lives that were cut short – men and women who had families and were loved and would have rather lived on. I think it is only right that we pause to remember and honor those lives, for they died in the name of our country whether or not we agreed with the justifications of that war.
My feelings on this day are all mixed up, but mostly I feel sad. And it is OK for children to feel sad, too – it’s part of life. As a good parent, you do not need to shield them from these realities. In fact, you do them a disservice if you don’t allow the full range of feelings. Feel all the Feelings, and then talk about them.
This is why The Wall by Eve Bunting is the go to book for many teachers on Memorial Day, I think. It is a simple and lovely story about visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with the emotional poignancy of this day presented in clear and child-friendly terms.
And then, if you have a memorial or a cemetery within visiting distance, take the kids to visit today. Take flowers to leave there, or make a pinwheel for peace and leave it. We can remember the dead and wish for peace in the future at the same time – it’s a perfect time to wish for peace, in fact.
And so, today I don’t wish you a “Happy” Memorial Day, exactly. I wish you an Emotionally Honest and Reflective Memorial Day. As I did last year, I’ll be taking my children to the local war memorials, and feeling many complicated feelings myself.