Mindfulness Helps Honor What's Important On Memorial Day
Updated: Jun 30
By Ben King
President and Founder, Armor Down, DCG DADvisor
Memorial Day began under a different name.
Following the American Civil War, mourners from both the North and the South gathered at cemeteries to decorate the graves of the dead. For almost 100 years, our nation came together every May 30th to honor those service members who gave their lives while in service to their country.
In 1971, during the complex challenges of the Vietnam War, the United States officially changed “Decoration Day” to Memorial Day, and designated the last Monday of May as the official day of observance.
So, what is it about honoring the dead that soothes the souls of the living?
In a time where nothing feels normal, a holiday like Memorial Day offers us an opportunity to feel grounded in tradition and to truly reflect on our own origins. Perhaps, honoring our dead offers the living the always-important considerations of people, places, and events we should remember and their relationship to what we have or may one day become.
But first, let’s look at the basic idea of honoring something. My favorite quote about honor is from former president Calvin Coolidge, who said:
“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”
To honor something is to give it our undivided attention. If the word “honor” seems antiquated to you, you might try thinking about the concept as being “mindful” instead. When we are mindful of or honor something, we are simply giving it our complete attention – the very best version of ourselves.
Can you remember the last time someone gave you their undivided attention? Do you remember how fantastic it felt?
When I played football in high school, my dad gave me every bit of his focused attention during my football games. He even became the stadium announcer during my senior year. My dad honored me with his fullest attention, and it felt fantastic.
Just repeating this story lifts my spirits.
Now, imagine creating that same feeling for someone else. I see it when I shower my 6- and 4-year-old daughters with undivided attention and affection.
You can, of course, experience this kind of “honor” in your everyday life. But recently, mindfulness has become an essential need among our military service men and women, largely due to the vital need for better ways to heal warriors from the traumas of the front line.
DADvocacy Consulting Group founder Allan Shedlin and I developed and have been running a program called Armor Down/Daddy Up!™ (AD/DU!) for more than a year now. We created AD/DU! for fathers/father figures and their children as a way to help returning veterans make the best possible transition from their roles as warriors to their roles as daddies. And what we’ve seen working with warrior dads and their kids is grounded in this same idea of mindfulness – of honor.
Allan and I have been helping veteran dads define their daddying “North Star” by teaching them mindfulness or more effective ways to focus on what’s most important to them as dads, and it’s making a difference in their lives. We help them discover their guiding light by asking themselves how they would like their children to describe them five, 10, 15 years from now. The program provides them with various tools to help them reach their goals. In addition, we've discovered it’s been just as therapeutic for these warrior dads to have our attention during these small-group sessions, as it has been for them to be attentive to their kids.
So, this Memorial Day, let’s all slow down and be mindful.
If it would help to make this holiday weekend more mindful for you, I’d like to invite you to the Mindful Memorial Foundation’s Mindful Memorial Day. It's an event I’ve been running since 2014, and I can tell you that seeing how the hardest minds "armor down" through the act of honoring our fallen is a sight to behold. One you never forget.
Last year, thousands of individuals from across the United States and beyond joined us at Arlington National Cemetery to honor the lives of 6,912 service members who have died since September 11, 2001. For the first time in the event’s six-year run, every single name was honored. Regrettably, this year, we will add 88 names to that list. In light of the global outbreak of COVID-19, we won’t be able to hold Mindful Memorial Day in its traditional form at Arlington National Cemetery. This year, we are inviting people to join us to honor the lives of our fallen service members virtually from the comfort of their own homes. Individuals may sign up online to honor a warrior's name HERE. Or, if your organization would like to become a “State Captain” by pledging to honor 100 fallen service members from the state(s) of your choice, you can do so HERE.
However you choose to spend your Memorial Day weekend this year, I hope you’ll give honoring our nation’s warriors the undivided attention they’ve earned and deserve. As a son, father, and veteran, I've learned in many ways that mindfulness is not just a tradition; it’s something that really matters.
Ben King is a veteran and a proud daddy of two young daughters with a story to tell. He is also a teacher, public speaker, and community organizer. Developing a yoga and mindfulness practice helped him adjust to civilian life after returning from war in Iraq, and he now uses mindfulness professionally to help other veterans thrive as civilians. Through his company Armor Down, Ben started Mindful Memorial Day at Arlington Cemetery to help visitors mindfully honor the sacrifice of the fallen. He consults for The Women in Military Service for America Memorial. His other clients include veteran service organizations, civilians, and schools. Ben has a master’s degree in Public Anthropology and left the military as an Army Sergeant and Psychological Operations Specialist.