Memorial Day Perspective

by Matthew LaBanca


A few days before Memorial Day, I was asked to sing the National Anthem and play Taps at Queens Borough Hall.  Who would be there?  Dozens of veterans, various speakers, and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.  It was an honor to pay tribute to those who gave their lives for our freedom.

Matthew singing the National Anthem for the Queens Borough Hall Memorial Day Tribute.

Matthew singing the National Anthem for the Queens Borough Hall Memorial Day Tribute.

But come the actual Memorial Day, I woke up with a different agenda.   My co-op community was honoring the local veterans that morning.  70 degrees and sunny, I brought my trumpet to play Taps, as a gift to my neighbors.  And instead of wearing Red, White, and Blue -  I wore Green and White.  These were the Sandy Hook Elementary School colors, where my niece attends school in CT.  I felt it was important to memorialize - to remember and remind others - that we have a love for ALL people who are no longer with us. 

Many local politicians spoke.  They told war stories.  Stories of heroism.  Stories about fighting for our freedom.  One politician even said that she had spoken for years at this same event, and was running out of stories to share.  There was care put into the event, but the speeches (my gratitude not withstanding) all sounded obligatory to me.  Stale, even

And then, my heart swelled when a local priest spoke a prayer for peace.

No one, during the entire 45 minute gathering, had used that word.  It caught me off guard.  It was as though I'd forgotten my longing to hear it. 

Throughout the ceremony, I heard a lot of people commenting on how values have shifted:  "Oh, there used to be SO many more people at this event."  

And there probably were.  These days, it's easy to stay sheltered, physically isolated behind our screens. That shift is undeniable.

But I think the lack of attendance also speaks to a deeper shift, which is this:  war and violence are much, much less palatable.   

We want peace.

"Well, DUH," you might say.  But then I ask you:  

Why doesn't Memorial Day stand for peace?  Like, REALLY stand for peace?  Every year on Memorial Day, the focus seems to be on acts of war:  battles, purple hearts, soldiers, and 21 gun salutes.

Let us never forget to pay tribute to our veterans.  I am so grateful for those who've given the ultimate sacrifice for my right to be free.  Freedom is a sacred gift, but it was fought for in a time where fighting was the way.  

Does war have to be the way?

 What if Memorial Day took on a greater meaning, with new traditions?  What if we moved beyond simply memorializing these acts, and really encouraged peaceful, non violent acts that have nothing to do with war?  We could, truly, create the peace we are so longing for.

Do you best educate a child with a smack across the face, or with educated and compassionate words?  Both have an affect.  What are you really teaching when you do the former?  Or the latter?  And if you were the child, how would YOU rather learn?  

It's a simple, even outdated example when dealing with children.  But I don't think this basic philosophy in local or worldwide education is any different for adults. Who are, in fact, just children (with a few extra years under our belts...) 

We want peace.  But are we going to force it and win it through violence, or are we going to really create a sustainable peace, from the ground up, through other acts of informed benevolence and compassion?  

I'm not a soldier.  I'm not a politician.  But I am an artist.  A proud artist. I've learned how to create moments of beauty with my unique gifts.  And, when the stars are aligned, I even get to transport people and shift their hearts.  

And that's my contribution, to help us "get there."  

For me, this Memorial Day, it's why I chose to show up, wear Green and White, and share my stories about Sandy Hook with my neighbors.  And then share my hopes for what we could be.  And play my trumpet and sing America the Beautiful.  

 A wide-eyed sentiment?  Not at all.  It's the thing we need most.  How do we best "get there?"  Not power.  Not isolation.  Not apathy.  But focus on understanding.  Humor.  Empathy.  Love.  

I like to think that I touched people's hearts with my music today (some even told me that I did.)  And if I can make people think differently, or see something of beauty, then I'm happy.  Because it helps us all to "get there."  That's my path.  

But I look to YOU, too.  What are your unique gifts, and your ability to create peace and beauty in this world?  Whether or not you think you are artistic, we ALL have the ability to create something beautiful.  And that makes us all artists.

If you've made it all the way to the bottom of this entry, I ask you - take THIS moment, open up your heart, and let the following words hit you:

Get out of your own way.  Take the time to create something rooted in love.  Give your beauty away.  Think about that stale tradition and change it to create something better.

Let that be the memory of you

Happy Memorial Day.  xo