The Great Cost of the Opportunity to Fully Live

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

A couple of years ago, I wrote about two of my grandfather’s brothers (Living to Honor Their Lives), Claude and Edgar, who were killed in World War II and how I can honor their sacrifice by the way I live. Two months ago, I had the opportunity to write about my grandfather’s life (What We Can Learn from a Life Well Lived) shortly after his passing and the lessons we can take from the way he lived. As we approach Memorial Day, I am again reminded of my grandfather, who served in the Marines, and his brothers who gave so much so that I, and others like me, could live a full life. There is a lot of hope gain from grasping the weight of that gift.

Just to be clear, I did not serve in the military and I do not pretend to understand what it is like to be a member of the armed services. I also do not assume to know what it is like to lose a fellow team member in the line of duty and do not want to minimize the incredible pain that must come with that reality. While their willingness to put their life of the line for others should be celebrated, the loss of their life is still a reason to grieve, and leaves a hole in the lives of the people they left behind. I know for many Memorial Day is a solemn day, and maybe that is something we all should learn from and appreciate more.

I came to this realization when I visited Arlington National Cemetery with my grandfather in 2016 to visit the gravesites of his two brothers. This eventually led me to write the article I mention above about his brothers, Claude and Edgar. Seeing pictures of Arlington National Cemetery is one thing, but visiting it brings an entirely new appreciation for the price that has been paid for your freedom. Walking the grounds with someone who knew and loved someone whose body rests there makes it even more real. The picture included with this article is of my grandfather sitting between the gravestones of his two fallen brothers. This picture was taken on that day in 2016. It strikes me that my grandfather had probably sat just like that many times in his life–between his two brothers–when they were still living. Watching him sit between the stones that are a reminder of the sacrifice they gave brings to life the fact that they truly lived.

As I reflect on that day, and the life that my grandfather lived, something else is produced in me: hope. My grandfather lived a full and long life, but it could have been a different story. I do not remember the first time he told me the story, but I do know I have heard it many times. During World War II, my grandfather joined the Marines. His three brothers had also joined the military. In fact, all three of them spent time overseas in combat zones. As I already referenced, two them were tragically killed in action. Because his third brother, Buck, was deployed to a combat zone, the military would not deploy my grandfather. Similar to the story in movie Saving Private Ryan they did not want to take the chance that all four brother would be killed. By the time that his brother returned to the United States, World War II was ending so my grandfather never saw action.

I would imagine this could leave you feeling a number of different ways. You are the only brother who didn’t see combat in World War II, and two of your brothers paid the ultimate sacrifice. We never talked specifically about this, but the way that he lived makes me believe it made him see the value of his life even more. The deaths of his brothers provided him the opportunity to live a life of meaning and purpose. My grandfather lived with great hope and I can’t help but believe this is in part because he understood the expensive gift he had been given by the many who gave their lives on his behalf. While their lives may have been cut short, they were also full of meaning and purpose, which is why we have a national holiday to remember and celebrate the impact they had through their willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice so that others could live.

This brings me back to the word hope. Someone’s willingness to put their lives on the line to give us the opportunity to fully live should produce hope within us. Great sacrifice demonstrates the great value of that for which it is given. This means your life and mine is of great worth and we should treat it accordingly. Someone was willing to die to preserve your ability to reach your God-given potential. What an opportunity that is. How much more hope-filled would you be if you approached your life through that lens?

On this Memorial Day, I hope we each get the chance to reflect on the opportunity we have been given through the incredible sacrifice made by those who died defending the United States of America. Like my grandfather, this expensive gift we have been given should give us hope and remind us to fully live these valuable lives we have been given.

Happy Memorial Day and thank you to those who died in defense of the United States of America. We are forever grateful for your sacrifice on our behalf.

James Belt

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