What are you willing to fight (and maybe even die) for?

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On Monday, people across the United States will celebrate Memorial Day, a national holiday recognizing those who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. For many, it is the unofficial start of the summer, a time for blockbuster movies, big store sales, and the Indianapolis 500.
 
But for a nation, Memorial Day is about sacrifice.
 
Originally known as Decoration Day, the idea of Memorial Day took root in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, a war in which approximately 620,000 soldiers died, representing almost two percent of the national population at the time (the equivalent of six million people in 2019). Regardless of whether you lived in the north or the south, every community and every family knew someone who had sacrificed their life in that war. 
 
Over time, that dynamic of universal sacrifice changed as the nature of military service changed (especially after World War II), but the numbers are still staggering: 116,516 died in World War I; 405,399 died in World War II; 36,574 died in the Korean War; 58,220 died in the Vietnam War; 383 died in Desert Shield/Desert Storm; 4,424 died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the list continues to (solemnly) grow. 
 
As the old saying goes “all gave some, some gave all” – and these are the individuals (and their families) that gave all.
 
They gave all in the defense of their land and their principles, fighting for the freedoms that their fellow citizens enjoy. Regardless of whether you think the wars were right and just (or if any war is ever right and just), it is impossible to ignore the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and died in the name of service. Nor can we ignore the real risk that those who are currently in the military make, since they too may be called to make the ultimate sacrifice while serving their nation.
 
But what about the rest of us who aren’t in the armed services? What are we willing to fight for? To die for?
 
I have been thinking a lot about these questions recently because sometimes it seems like the concept of sacrifice has become casual at best, and diminished at worst. The meaning of giving up something truly valuable in exchange for something meaningful and (ideally) enduring seems almost contradictory to the “I want it all and I can have it all” excess of our age. We are constantly bombarded with messages that we can get smarter without studying, lose weight without exercising, and gain more without giving.
 
But can we? Really?
 
Sacrifice doesn’t always need to be seen negatively. In fact, not surprisingly, I think it is something that can be seen as profoundly positive. To believe so strongly in something that you are wiling to give up comfort, status, and mental, emotional, and even physical safety is a testament to belief. A powerful reflection of a sense of possibility.  To give up something so that something can be gained – for you or for others – is not a fool’s errand. It is an expression of optimism.
 
An optimism worth fighting for.
 
So leading up to Memorial Day, take a moment to reflect on those who sacrificed themselves in service to their country. And in turn, take another moment to think about your own values and actions.
 
Are you making forceful efforts to advance your ideals? 
Are you fighting for causes that are important to you?
Are you making real, true sacrifices for what matters?
 
All gave some, and some gave all…
 
Which one describes you?

Seth CohenComment