There was a time, not so long ago, when Memorial Day, and the knowledge that school would soon be ending, was the dock from which we looked out upon the sea of summer. From Memorial Day, to a child of the right age, September looked like some undiscoverable Indies, lying far beyond the visible horizon.
And Memorial Day itself? It was the last and most solemn solemnity before the beautiful expanse of summer, a day when graves were being gardened everywhere and you could see from the flags among them who had died as veterans.
Perhaps summer was never as blissfully empty as it seems in memory. It certainly isn’t now when we’re in the clutches of adulthood. Even so, the Fourth of July doesn’t seem to be lying in wait just around the next corner, and let us not speak of Labor Day. Better to enjoy the slowness of Memorial Morning and Memorial Afternoon and Memorial Evening, the fireflies rising like very slow fireworks into the darkness of the trees.
It has always seemed fitting to mark the purpose of this holiday — honoring those who have died in our country’s service — at the exuberant end of May. The outburst of spring is just slowing into summer’s cadence, and yet you can still smell and feel the biological crescendo all around you.
Whether it consoles the people who are gardening those graves is for them to say. And these years, after a decade of two wars, there are many lost lives to mourn. But nature is doing all it can to comfort. Life, it seems to be saying, continues on from summer to summer. There are memories and sadness, but also a verdancy that makes us celebrate what we have.