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Lead a life worthy of veterans’ sacrifices

Matt Miklavic | Thursday, November 14, 2013

Most, if not all, of us move past Stonehenge daily without much thought, save perhaps for the sheer amazement at Notre Dame’s inability to find a fountain that won’t splash everywhere. I doubt many, if any, of us give it more than a passing glance or a second look. With the exception of the annual vigil maintained by Notre Dame’s three ROTC units during Veterans Day, I suspect we meander by this memorial to Notre Dame’s veterans with the same regretful indifference we have for our nation’s veterans outside of special occasions like Veterans and Memorial Day.

The sacrifices that veterans and their families make are immeasurable. They’ve missed too many births, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and holidays to count. They’ve been uprooted and moved, leaving behind their home and friends two, three, four and a dozen times. They’ve endured seemingly endless deployments and nights of worry. There have been too many parents, siblings and spouses gone for far too long.

There have been millions who never returned. They rest eternally on the gently rolling hills of Arlington Cemetery, on battlefields across the globe and at sea, in graves both celebrated and unmarked. Their sacrifice – ultimate, total, complete – is neither calculable nor repayable. In honoring both our veterans and our fallen, society takes any manner of approaches.

There are numerous organizations from the USO to the Wounded Warrior Project dedicated to their support. There are parades and appreciation campaigns. There are the thousands of “thank you’s” uttered each day. Perhaps the single most important way we appreciate our veterans’ service, however, is in seeking ourselves to become worthy of their sacrifice.

Our debt to veterans, past and present, is one that cannot be paid down. It can, however, be paid forward. We are obligated not only to extend our gratitude to those who have provided our freedoms, but to take these freedoms and make the most of them. We are compelled to prove ourselves deserving of their sacrifice. To this end, how do we live our lives? Can we truly say we are making the most of the time we have? Do we make the most of each day? If we are here because others have laid down their lives to create that possibility, can we truly say we are making the most of the time we, rather than they, have been afforded?

If we are honest with ourselves, I suspect we must admit there are days we do not. There are days we fail to truly earn what others have sacrificed, to fulfill our responsibility to live our lives to the fullest. I won’t pretend I know what we’re supposed to do with our lives. I can’t tell you I know what will make a life complete or content. I’m not sure anyone can, and if there is someone, it’s probably not the kid who just walked to class and back before realizing his fly was open. But there are a few things I think.

I think we can find purpose in the service of others. I think we can live fully in working for our communities, our family and our friends. I think the power of the collective is limitless, and insofar as we are able to have the immense opportunity afforded to us by the tireless dedication and sacrifice of those who have served past and present, we ought to pass it on as well. I think we can find fulfillment in service of our friends, our towns, our country and our fellow man.

I think we live best when we live with kindness and an aim to go about doing good. While I end up at dorm Mass most weeks, I can’t truthfully say I’ve already found faith that there’s a God. But be it karma, God, fate or whatever else one may call it, I believe doing good pays – and even if it doesn’t, it’s worth doing anyway. I think I’ve rarely regretted being kind or going the extra mile for someone. I think I regularly regret doing the opposite. I think when I look back I will value the time I spent for others far more than the time I spent for myself. I think whether we’re in business or medicine, science or engineering, working in a school or in a non-profit, we can all find an avenue to serve each other.

Gandhi once counseled, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Churchill noted, “We make a life by what we give.”

Irrespective of the mantra, let us dream greatly, dare boldly, serve tirelessly and act kindly. We all know far too many people who have died far too young, in war and in peace, to waste the days we have. Our time here is far too fleeting to shrink from the bright lights and fail to fulfill our promise. Ultimately, let us lose ourselves in the service of others, and, in the process find ourselves worthy of the service and sacrifice of others.

Matt Miklavic is a junior studying finance and political science from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He’s also a huge fan of flash mobs. He can be reached at mmiklavi@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not         necessarily those of The Observer.