By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Over the course of my public career, I’ve taken part in dozens of Memorial Day ceremonies. I’ve listened to the solemn tributes paid to those who made the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives for our freedoms. I’ve heard stories of their valiant service and poignant memories shared by those who loved them. I’m always touched by the sadness that comes from wondering how life would be different had they continued to live among us.

I never fail to be moved by the mournful notes of Taps sounding from a lone bugler, the sight of the American flag flown at half-staff waving crisply in the breeze, watching as families place flowers on the graves of those taken from them too soon. In these moments, I’m always cognizant that my own sadness doesn’t touch the grief they’ve known.

The sight that always undoes me the most, however, is watching veterans stand at such sharp attention, saluting their fellow fallen service members, folding flags carefully into triangles, firing guns in somber salute, blinking back tears from their eyes. I’ve talked to a number of these men and women, and they say it is always a mixture of gratitude and grief they feel at these moments – gratitude to be among the living, grief and survivor’s guilt that they lived while their friend and fellow brother or sister in arms died in battle.

After these graveside services, come the parades. Red, white and blue bunting, patriotic music playing, horns honking, people waiving, children running for candy, families celebrating. As I consider the two emotions these ceremonies evoke – the grief of the grave, the joy of the parade – I realize both are important and appropriate. We must honor our fallen. We must remember their lives and their sacrifices. We must pay tribute. We must let the full weight of the cost of liberty sink in – blood, sweat, struggle, life itself. But, then we must shake off the dust of grief. Our heroes, after all, did not die so that we would sink into the grave with them. They died so that we could live free.

So this Memorial Day, stand in silence at the graveside. Trace your fingers on names and eternal dates etched in stone. Take a moment to watch the flag wave in the breeze. Place flowers on the graves of those you loved, or just on the graves of those who sacrificed their lives for you even if you never had the opportunity to meet them. Consider the cost of your own freedom.

But then, celebrate. Take part in the parade. Laugh. Smile. Eat to your fill. Enjoy the sunshine on your face and the wind in your hair. Hug your spouses and your children. Spend time with those you love. Be kind to those you don’t.

Most of all, bow your head. Say a prayer of remembrance for those who served our nation – giving their own lives in sacrifice for ours. Remember their families and those who loved them; pray for their comfort and peace, their protection and provision, and that they will find a way forward through their grief and pain. Say a prayer of thanksgiving for your own life and your liberty. Thank the Lord above that He allowed you to be born into a nation such as ours – the greatest nation yet on the face of this earth. Pray that it will always be free. Finally, offer thanks for the men and women who secured that freedom for your sake and for mine.

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