In 1866, in the wake of our Civil War, the Ladies' Memorial Association in Georgia decided that they would designate a day to throw flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers. However, they didn't want it to be an isolated event, so they asked newspapers to share the idea.
People across the South followed their lead and rested flowers on the confederate graves, but some noticed interspersed union graves left empty, so they started placing flowers on these graves as well.
Their action was a ripple that got published everywhere and led to the creation of Memorial Day in 1868.
No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
When they laurel the graves of our dead!
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day,
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.
-Francis Miles Finch, The Blue and The Grey
It feels like we are living through a second Civil War, and this week has been tremendously difficult. On national holidays, like this one, I would invite my corporate peloton, as I do here, to Pause Breathe Reflect on - What is called for now?
This week I've thought about Desmond Tutu's quote, "There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in."
As I travel upstream, I wonder how are we living?
How did the home of the brave become so frightened?
What are we scared of that makes us feel like we need to have the most guns per capita - by far- than any other nation? How can we agree to improve automobile safety but not do anything to further gun safety?
Some are quick to say that it's not about guns; it's all about mental health. If this is the case, I'll return to the question: How are we living? Yes, we have a significant mental health crisis in this country, but other countries with higher rates don't experience gun violence as we do.
How are we living is also an appropriate question when reflecting on our covid experience. Why have we placed flowers on more graves per capita than comparable nations - especially when American companies created the vaccines?
How are we living that causes too many to pass too soon?
Why do we enable the U.S. to be exceptional in violence but not in preventing illness, enhancing social mobility, and fostering happiness?
One way to honor those who have physically passed is to live mindfully with intention, compassion, and action.
Yesterday I was asked why I had "the crazy idea" to ride across the country. My answer was I'm riding for all those who can't - I feel an obligation to lean in because I was lucky enough to have been saved.
As I cross the country, I will speak with as many as possible to understand how we are living? It's normal to rush toward the need to heal, but first, we need to understand what is causing our pain.
I'm done with thoughts, prayers, and placing flowers on graves as we wait for others to be courageous. It's time to go upstream and follow the women in 1866 who didn't wait for politicians to honor the fallen. Instead, they acted compassionately, which is what I think is called for now.
If you wish to follow my ride and conversations, here are the best options because this space will not be consistent during my travels.
Instagram: @MichaelOBrienShift, @PauseBreatheReflect
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