Many people have observed that holidays like Memorial Day have lost their meaning over time, having been commandeered by retail store sales, backyard BBQ’s, and the “three-day weekend” trip. It seems that the practice of attending a parade or other type of ceremony on Memorial Day is generally disappearing from our culture’s consciousness. The concern is that perhaps we as Americans are losing our understanding of the sacrifices made by the men and women in uniform who have died fighting our nation’s wars.
However, there is a new trend that just might represent a reemergence of remembering our fallen heroes in a creative and meaningful way. This past Memorial Day I participated in something called the “Murph Challenge” (www.themurphchallenge.com). It is a workout done in honor of Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL who died heroically in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. Lt. Murphy was killed by Taliban forces after willingly positioning himself in a vulnerable area to radio for help as his unit was coming under heavy fire. He bravely continued to fight until his last breath. His sacrifice has earned him the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart, and his story has been popularized in various avenues, including the movie Lone Survivor.
The workout, named after him, is no joke: it consists of a 1 mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats, and another 1 mile run, all while wearing a 20-pound weight vest. I was in a group of about thirty people who spent the better part of an hour fighting our way through this, and by the end I was completely smoked! At one point, however, I couldn’t help asking myself as I looked around at my fellow sufferers, “Why are we doing this?”
It seems to me there is something about doing a workout or other type of physical challenge in commemoration of someone else’s sacrifice that allows us to both identify with it and use it to test our own limitations. The hero’s story takes us to the edges of who we are and causes us to ask, “Could I do the same?” Therefore, putting ourselves through a physical trial makes us reckon with what it takes to ignore our own wants and needs in the moment in pursuit of something greater.
Secondly, there is something about one person sacrificing their life for another that is holy and sacred, and in a sense deserving of something demanding from us. When we look at what has been done, we can’t help but affirm the words of Jesus: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
While we may rightly lament the decreasing popularity of community parades and ceremonies, we should not ignore the new ways people are finding to come together to make sure they never forget. So maybe you should consider training now for the “Murph Challenge.” If this average 42-year old guy can do it, so can you!