“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” Thomas Paine (1737 -1809), revolutionary and author of Common Sense
This past Monday I attended the Memorial Day service at our small town Cemetery. It is something I attend every year since we moved here four years ago. Memorial Day is a day dedicated to those American soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the name of liberty. These soldiers did not want to die, but they served our country out of a sense of duty: to their country, to their family and so future generations can live free without fear.
Duty. It is a word that is not heard very often anymore, outside of the military of course. What does it mean, exactly? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, duty is defined as those “obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position (as in life or in a group) or a sense of moral or legal obligation”. In this post-modern world, do any of us live under a sense of duty anymore? I guess the better question to ask is do we think more of others than of ourselves? Duty is a form of self-sacrifice, and that means we willingly give up that which may be good for us for the sake of another. Is that something we teach our children, and if we do, do we model it for them in our own lives?
Our military knows what duty is. They go out every day, and do things that they may not want to do, but a sense of honor and duty compels them. They realize that freedom is not free, and they understand the obligation that comes with having a life of liberty. Sometimes that requires sacrifice. Sometimes that requires loss. Avoiding a fight does not deny evil its day, and sometimes in order to win, you have to stand up to lose. Our military will always have my utmost respect, and my heart breaks at the sacrifices they and their families have made for our country in the line of duty. Yet, through the tears of loss, I feel a great pride in the legacy of courage they leave us. They gave up all of their tomorrows so that I could have mine, and for that I am eternally grateful.
I do not mean to make you feel guilty or uncomfortable, but if you do feel guilty or uncomfortable, perhaps there is a duty out there that you are avoiding, knowing that you must fulfill but are not. Is it to your wife, your husband, your children, your boss, your country? Selfishness will get you only so far in this life, about as far as a lonely road can take you. With all relationships come responsibility, and we each have to decide if a lonely life is worth being able to avoid the obligations of a dutiful life.
A sense of duty obligates us to look beyond ourselves, perhaps peering into eternity for the fulfillment we may not see in this day. Duty is not the result of an external force, but the result of a personal will. It is a decision to sacrifice ones comfort, for the sake of ones character. Which do you think would be the better heritage to offer to our future generations, temporal comfort or eternal character?
If you need any help answering that last question, go ask an American soldier. You’ll be glad you did.
“If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” Thomas Paine (1737 -1809), revolutionary and author of Common Sense