The tiny planet Mercury will pass across the middle of the sun today.
However, you and I should not try to see the so-called Mercury transit by looking at it since looking directly at the sun can cause permanent eye damage. Plus, Mercury will be just a tiny dot on the sun. NASA therefore recommends using a telescope with a certified solar filter.
Or, for the vast majority of us who do not possess such instruments, we can watch on the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s website. Their equipment will directly view the Mercury transit, which we will then experience secondhand.
Let’s consider this story as a parable for one of the most important but overlooked days of the year.
Facts many Americans don’t know
Today, Americans honor the 19.6 million active and former members of our armed forces. Veterans Day is a federal holiday, which means that government offices are closed. So are most banks.
However, for much of American business, it’s business as usual. Many restaurants in the Dallas area are offering veterans free meals or discounts to express gratitude for their service. But most restaurants, stores, and businesses appear to be open. And I found only one school district in our region that is closed today.
Many Americans don’t know that, as the Department of Defense explains, today is “Veterans Day” rather than “Veteran’s Day” or “Veterans’ Day.” The day does not belong to one veteran or a group of veterans—it is intended to honor all veterans.
The Defense Department also notes that many confuse Veterans Day (honoring all who have served our country in war or peace, whether alive or dead) with Memorial Day (honoring those who died in defense of our country).
And in my experience, most Americans do not seem to know that a period of silence lasting two minutes is to be held at 11 a.m. each year on Veterans Day.
I don’t know anyone personally who disagrees with the importance of honoring our veterans. Why, then, is Veterans Day less understood and celebrated than would seem appropriate?
Here’s my theory: more of us would honor our veterans more passionately if we knew what they know.
It is estimated that military veterans make up 7.6 percent of the US population. The vast majority of us have not served and therefore cannot truly understand the sacrifices made by those who have. We are like astronomical amateurs viewing the Mercury transit through the equipment of professionals. The reality seems less real because it seems less personal.
And most vicarious experiences, like someone showing us their cellphone photos of a sunset they witnessed, are less powerful for us than if we experienced them ourselves.
“A death defying ride of terror”
This theme has been in my mind since Janet and I saw the powerful movie Midway last Friday. The film tells the story of the battle described as “the turning point in the Pacific.”
Six months after Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, their naval forces sought to capture Midway atoll, about 1,300 miles west of Hawaii. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto then intended to lure the US Navy into a battle during which his superiority in planes and warships, especially aircraft carriers, would destroy American naval power.
Hawaii and possibly the West Coast of the US would then be open to attack.
However, US Navy cryptanalysts cracked the Japanese naval code and warned American forces beforehand. On the morning of June 4, 1942, American carrier planes attacked the Japanese forces. US dive bombers destroyed three Japanese aircraft carriers, leading to Japan’s defeat and retreat.
Naval historian Laura Lawfer Orr describes their mission: “Dive bombing was a death defying ride of terror.” Midway brings viewers into the cockpits of these pilots as they fly through heavy enemy fire, drop their bombs on their targets, and barely avoid crashing into the ocean.
Many did not survive. All were willing to die that our nation’s freedom might live.
“Make this a nation worth fighting for”
Ronald Reagan: “We should always remember that in a hostile world, a nation’s future is only as certain as the devotion of its defenders, and the nation must be as loyal to them as they are to the nation.”
Those of us who have not served in our military cannot truly know the sacrifices of those who have. But we can express our gratitude to them and for them in sacrificially significant ways.
We can stop today at 11 a.m. for two minutes of silence, during which we can pray for our veterans, asking God for his greatest blessings upon them and their families. We can ask God for ways through the year we can serve those who have served us so faithfully.
And we can fight in the moral and spiritual war that is raging in our nation these days. I will not forget the response of one veteran when I asked him how I could thank him for his service: “Make this a nation worth fighting for.”
The warrior King David, in words that describe our day as much as his, asked: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). He then reminded us: “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord‘s throne is in heaven” (v. 4). And he testified: “The Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face” (7).
What “righteous deeds” will you perform to advance God’s kingdom this week?
How “upright” will you be today?