At 8am a few days ago I was jogging through the Boston Public Garden and Boston Common and feeling happy that I live in such a beautiful city. Physical movement, deep breathing, and all the spring colors around me made for an especially life-affirming moment. George Washington was surveying tulips and roses standing at attention, perhaps searching for the sun on a foggy morning. Making my way through the Common I stopped short and had to catch my breath, not from exertion, but because I had come upon thousands of miniature American flags dotting the green hills in orderly rows, like soldiers in formation. What hands had carefully planted these patriotic flowers? Signs indicate that in the “garden of 37,000 flags” each represented a fallen Massachusetts soldier from the Revolutionary War onward. I have lived in the Boston area since I was 13, and in Boston proper since 2000, but had never seen this Memorial Day tribute before. I am still learning new things about this amazing city. The location chosen for the flags by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund is deliberate and appropriate. The statue you can see in the distance is a permanent memorial to the fallen Boston soldiers who fought for unity and against slavery in the Civil War.
Memorial Day always fills me with mixed emotions. I don’t generally support violence and war. But I also know that some people and conflicts are difficult to manage with diplomacy and kindness. Would the United States exist if the original American colonies hadn’t literally fought for freedom? Would slavery have persisted decades more in the South if not for the Civil War? I also wonder whether I would be a starving and uneducated citizen of an entirely Communist Korea if the United States had not helped fight for democracy. Usually, when someone asks me, “Where are you from originally?” I’ll say, “Boston!” with a sassy smile. Back when I was rotating at the VA hospitals as a dermatology resident, if an older veteran asked me where I’m from I admitted I was born in Korea and asked whether he served in the Korean War so I could thank him.
Memorial Day is not the time to argue whether war is a necessary evil. It’s a day to grieve that humanity could not and still cannot resolve all conflicts peacefully, because every flag out on the Commons also represents the broken hearts of so many surviving loved ones. It’s a day to be thankful for my life lived in freedom and clarity because thousands sacrificed their lives in the name of duty or a noble cause. There is nothing uncivilized about that. I sometimes question the methods and motives of those who start and conduct wars at the top (safe in their war rooms), but I honor the soldiers who fight and fall.