May is Military Appreciation Month, Mothers’ Day, Memorial Day, and the unofficial start to summer. High schools and colleges hold their graduations, and new graduates luxuriate in a few weeks of freedom and youthfulness before rushing into a new chapter in their schooling or adulthood.

May is an idealistic month—we thank our mothers for their mothering, holding them up as paragons—graduates look towards their ideal future—college? A better job? The American Dream?

Ideals are part of the American psyche: we create our own destiny. We are entrepreneurs and dreamers; we can be anything we want to be—all we have to do is roll up our sleeves and go for it.

The Friday before Mother’s Day is Military Spouse Appreciation Day, which was first recognized by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. According to, it is a day to “acknowledge the significant others of service members who hold down the fort while their partners are serving the country.” This year, it coincided with North and South Carolina’s Confederate Memorial Day on May 10.

…Which brings me to the solemnity of May. Sprinkled in between graduations, appreciation for mothers and military spouses are some other grim reminders of service.

May 13 is Children of Fallen Patriots’ Day, and May 15 is Peace Officer’s Memorial Day.

May is also the month for memorial motorcycle rides. Mid-month, hundreds of motorcyclists gather in California to take part in the annual Run for the Wall cross-country ride. Along the way, the initial riders will be joined by other riders, and by the time they all arrive in Washington DC, their numbers will swell to almost 2,000. Some of the Run for the Wall riders will go on to participate in events in Arlington Cemetery or at the Vietnam Memorial Wall; others will join the “Rolling Thunder- Ride for Freedom” which is another motorcycle event. This year will be the final Rolling Thunder, which is ending after 32 years of educating the public about America’s MIA/POWs.

Riders taking part in these events do it for an ideal–and to draw attention to veterans’ causes.

Thousands of volunteers in big cities and small towns support the riders by offering free meals, snacks, fuel, shelter and goodwill because they believe strongly in the ride’s missions.

For a little over two weeks, men, women and children across the country come together to embrace an ideal, which is the very essence of America. Neighbors work together to create an experience for hundreds of strangers riding for a higher purpose: riding for someone who can’t.

On May 17, some Run for the Wall riders paraded through Moriarty as they headed east.

America is a very patriotic country. We love the colors red, white and blue. We have our monuments, our memorials, our banners and our ceremonies. As a nation, we honor our war dead in flag-flying, music-playing, and wreath-laying ceremonies. We love our freedom and constitutional rights. In May, we barbeque in the backyard, enjoy savings at giant Memorial Day sales and take road trips to beaches and lakes. It’s fine, service members say, “we sacrifice ourselves, so you can enjoy your freedoms.”

Service… sacrifice… patriotism… freedom… ideals…

May, with all of its ideals and symbols, makes for a complicated, dramatic month. On the surface, it’s beautiful and sunny, but, if one thinks about it, it has a stormy underside. It makes people reflect…and contemplate…

Am I really a good mom? Or—How will I pay off these college loans? How can I support these kids, now that their father-or mother- has died? How can we respectfully honor the past while acknowledging its injustices? The motorcyclists on their seemingly idyllic ride will encounter bad weather, traffic accidents, and will have aches and pains and medical issues caused by days on the road. Traffic will snarl. Barbeques will be rained out.

Memorial Day is very hard for many military families—it is a day of remembrance and for honoring people who died while serving in the armed forces. There’s hardly a military family who doesn’t know someone who has been killed in service, and unwitting people who wish service members a “happy Memorial Day” are often treated to a baffled look— Memorial Day is not the same as Veterans Day. As one Gold Star website stated, to Gold Star families, every day is Memorial Day. So too, is it for some combat vets.

Military families will be reminded of their loved ones who are dead—or about those who are dying a little bit each day, due to PTSD, addiction, Agent Orange or burn pit diseases. Those families know that war is not an ideal, or a concept, to those who are in it. It’s not glory and rah, rah—it’s REAL and it lasts for an entire lifetime.

I just heard a line in a movie: “Dying’s easy, it’s the living that’s hard.”

So, enjoy beautiful May with its promises of a glorious June, and appreciate its goodness and glory, made all the more sweet by understanding its more serious underside.