Memorial Day is about recognizing the ultimate sacrifice for our country: losing one's life. That deserves a lot of praise. But so do lesser sacrifices ordinary Americans perform every day to make things better for their fellow citizens.
That's who I want to honor today.
Not just those who have died fighting for the United States, but everybody who engages in actions large or small for the greater good. What happened to me while grocery shopping last week got me thinking about this.
I was in a checkout line at the south Salem Fred Meyer. The clerk had scanned my purchases and was ready to charge my credit card. But she paused, picked up a coupon, and read it closely. I was perplexed, since I hadn't given her any coupons.
"Someone couldn't use this," the clerk told me. "They asked that I use the coupon for someone who could. You know, a pay it forward thing." So I got $1 off a container of Baby Spring Mix organic salad greens.
That spurred me to look in my wallet for a Fred Meyer grocery coupon that I'd been carrying around for a while because I never buy enough groceries to use the $7 off a purchase of $70 or more. I handed the coupon to the clerk.
"This is a good deal," I said. "Seven dollars off. Use the coupon when someone qualifies for it." The clerk asked if I was sure I wanted to give it away. Absolutely, I told her, mentioning that I never buy $70 worth of groceries.
As I headed off to my car after checking out, I realized that I felt hugely better about giving the $7 off coupon away, than I did about getting $1 subtracted from the cost of the salad greens. The adage it's better to give than to receive popped into my brain.
(The Bible says "more blessed" rather than "better." However, since I'm not religious, I prefer better.)
It's wonderful that evolution has led us humans to feel good about doing good. That's because our species is intensely social. In the early history of Homo sapiens, as today, we thrived by cooperating with each other to accomplish things beyond the capacity of any individual or small group.
Giving is one way we continue to form the bonds that tie us together, notwithstanding all the political and other pressures that drive us apart. When I thought about someone smiling at being able to get $7 off due to the coupon I gave the clerk, I was filled with the warm glow that comes from giving.
Almost everybody feels that way when they act in a way that makes life better for someone else.
In fact, probably I shouldn't have added that "Almost." Even the most selfish Wall Street trader, whose goal is making bucketloads of money for themselves and their firm, likely feels good that they're playing their part in the game of capitalism that keeps our country's powerful financial machinery humming.
So here's to all of the people who give to the greater good. Who are, again, everybody. Trash collectors. Medical personnel. Teachers. Plumbers. Store clerks. Students. Nursing home residents. Everywhere we look, there's fellow citizens giving of themselves.
Last night, on the 11 pm KGW news, there was a story about how electrical linemen are trained, who work with experienced crews from the very begging of their training. One of the trainees said that he loves it when lights go on in a house because of what his team did.
That's giving. That's sacrifice. Not nearly as dramatic as Patrick Henry's famous ""I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," yet praiseworthy all the same.