Chaplain's Corner: Memorial Day


I don’t want to sound melancholy or morose, but I have to admit that I enjoy visiting cemeteries. I find the experience to be quiet, reflective, contemplative and at times, spiritual. I stop looking at my watch or my i-phone. I take my time and walk slower than usual. Marker by marker, I look at names, dates, how long the deceased lived and the messages they left behind.
Behind the markers are women, men and (tragically) children. Though I never knew them, somehow, someway, I feel a connection.
A few days ago, our country commemorated Memorial Day. This is our official holiday honoring and mourning the military personnel who died while serving in the U.S. military forces.
Growing up in Memphis in the 1970s and 1980s, I lived in a bubble. There was no longer a military draft. I never even considered serving in the military. The only thing I had to do once I turned 18 was register for the draft.
I feel lucky and fortunate that I never had to experience combat. Based upon the movies I have watched and the conversations I have had with veterans, I can imagine what they went through … the trauma, horror and chaos.
I vividly remember visiting a hospital patient who happened to be a veteran. He shared with me some of his stories from World War II in the Pacific theater. One memory of his has continued to haunt me. He described a firefight in the jungle when back-to-back explosions instantly killed the soldier to his right and to his left but left him unscathed. What did he do? He kept moving forward. 
I enjoy visiting cemeteries because my time there reminds me to be grateful for being alive. One day a headstone will mark my grave. Perhaps for a few generations, I will be remembered. Maybe some in my family or my family-to-be will pay a visit. 
What is more important is how I will live my life within the dash connecting the day of my birth and the day of my death. I am well past the half-way point of my life. At times, I feel the clock is ticking. I have so much I have yet to experience and accomplish. Who knows how many more relationships I will maintain or foster.
During Memorial Day, I reflected upon the legacies left behind by our veterans and upon the legacies cut short. I am grateful for their dedication to country, family and friends. I am grateful for how they protected and defended the country we often take for granted.
May we reflect upon the power of Memorial Day and be grateful for the gift we have received to leave behind our own memories, legacies and lives well-lived.
As the Community Chaplain for the Greater Portland Jewish community, Rabbi Barry Cohen serves as a resource for all Jews in our community. He can be reached at 503-892-7401 or


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