Today is Memorial Day.
For many, it marks the beginning of summer. Some schools have already dismissed, the academic year officially over. It’s the unofficial first camping weekend of the season. It’s a day of picnics and barbeques, of gardening—planting and nurturing vegetables and fruits that will nourish us in the moment and through the next seasons as well as planting beautiful flowers to appreciate and enjoy mindfully.
Memorial Day weekend—the weekend, not the “Day”—is this, yes. The dedicated day, however, is beyond this. Today is a day that we remember, honor, and appreciate soldiers who sacrificed their lives standing for the freedom they valued for everyone. It began in 1865 at the end of the Civil War and continues today as an honor those who have continued to preserve our way of life for 153 years and counting.
The Significance of Memorial Day for All
Technically, they did die fighting in war. There’s a bigger picture than “war,” though. These men and, later, women, died while standing for peace for all. They took action for what they believed in so that their fellow countrymen/women could live the lives they valued. They acted toward important values so that no power would usurp those ideals.
Memorial Day is a great opportunity to pause and feel gratitude. Pausing to appreciate life and how we live it is perhaps one of the highest honors we can give those fallen soldiers. This honor might be topped only by one more: by creating and living our own quality lives—because we can. We can discover our own personal values and take committed action to realize them.
While of course mental health and wellbeing are complex and have great depth (as in they’re not simple with easy, quick-fixes), at their essence are these principles:
- What do I value for myself and my life? What is my reason, my why, my purpose?
- What small action steps can I commit to taking every day? What is my how?
Actions You Can Take
Once you know what you want, your why, the world of the how opens to you. Just a few things to highlight the possibilities in front of you:
- Identifying and using your character strengths
- Finding passions and activities that bring you joy
- Learning relaxation techniques
- Healthy eating
- Playing “just one thing” – on your toughest days, choosing one single, simple thing to do to move you forward
This is truly only a partial list. You can take action to achieve the wellbeing that you define.
On Memorial Day we can enjoy our picnics and our barbeques, our cherished time with family and friends. We can do this because we continue to have the freedom to do so thanks to our soldiers who put their lives on the line for their values and ours. We can en-JOY Memorial Day weekend by identifying our own values for our wellbeing and by taking action to achieve them. What can you do for your mental health and wellbeing and en-JOY-ment today?
Memorial Day, Poppies, and Grit
Whether you’re a soldier or a have a different role, whether you’re young or old, no matter what mental health challenges loom over you, you can achieve wellbeing and create a quality life. One of the elements is a concept known as grit. Coined and researched by Angela Duckworth, grit refers to a combination of perseverance and resilience that helps you keep going in the face of difficulties.
The poppy is the perfect symbol for today. Since 1915 with the publication of a poignant poem by Lt. Col. John McCrae, the poppy has represented fallen soldiers and Remembrance Day (Veteran’s Day), and has been incorporated into Memorial Day, too.
Poppies symbolize strength and perseverance because they can lie dormant for years and then burst into bloom. Just like us. If you feel that you’ve been dormant, know that you’re like a poppy—you are living and can flourish.
In Flanders Fields
Lt. Col. John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields