By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published May 29, 2008
The trip to the new National Cemetery in Canton is usually a breeze, and so I had hoped it would be on Memorial Day morning. It was anything but the usual trip. From the front door of my home to the very entry of the cemetery, there seemed to be a door-to-door police squad car presence on this holiday! From city, to county, to state patrols, I have never seen so many police safeguarding the streets.
I began to think it might have been a personal escort that I had not previously requested—not that I have ever exceeded the speed limit except on rare occasion! But the constant flashing lights from oncoming traffic indicated another speed trap was just ahead.
The presence of so many patrol cars had the effect of slowing down the usually speeding traffic, which was just the desired effect of the presence of so many police officers. They were there in great numbers to protect us, not to harass us. These officers were really serving as public servants and not striving to be personal menaces.
Memorial Day is a national civic observance in honor of those who have served us in the military and especially a remembrance of those who have given their lives in protection of our cherished national freedom. Those public servants are the focus of this holiday, but I could not help to think about all of those men and women who serve the public in many and varied ways each day.
Memorial Day honors those who have given their lives in service to our country. It is a day for families and neighbors to reflect on the heroic sacrifices that so many military personnel have offered in defense of our freedom. It is good for all of us to remember those fine people and to give thanks.
Each day, we live with many quiet and generous servants of the common good—police officers, firefighters, as well as members of the armed forces who protect us. Occasionally the protection that they provide seems like a rude intrusion on our freedom, but they act in behalf of the common good. Those police squad cars that slowed down the traffic helped to save lives even though they seemed to intimidate and stifle our usual behavior.
The common good is a reality that frequently transcends personal freedom. We Americans are all too accustomed to our personal liberty trumping all other concerns, but there are times when the common good must triumph over personal freedom.
As I pulled into the National Cemetery on Memorial Day—much closer to the scheduled time for Mass than I had anticipated—I was still annoyed that the presence of so many police patrols had delayed my travel time. However, as I offered Mass for the fallen heroes and heroines of our nation, I also remembered to give thanks that I made the trip safely because those officers slowed down the holiday traffic, thus making the roadways safer for every traveler, including me. Occasionally my personal freedom needs to succumb to the common good that serves only to protect us all.