Memory can certainly be a tenuous thing. On any given day, I can call up things both distant and recent in my history. Those days, however, are coming along less often all the time. I know that the memory is in my brain, whether it is an event in the past, something someone told me recently or someone’s name. The problem isn’t that I don’t have the memory. The problem is, I can’t seem to bring it forward when I need it. Sometimes I think my head is just too full of essential information that is more immediately needed and my memories are hiding somewhere behind those things, having a cocktail until needed, and are then understandably slow to make their way to the front of consciousness. I guess the good news is that sometimes I have forgotten what I have forgotten, which might even be progress.
This weekend is known as Memorial Day weekend. It is the unofficial first day of the summer vacation season so lots of people will be out of town. Judging from the ads, it is a great excuse to have big sales in the stores. As the name would imply, however, Monday is a day that calls us to bring forward memories — specific memories.
The day was originally called Decoration Day and was begun to recognize the tremendous loss of life from the Civil War by decorating the graves of soldiers, both Union and Confederate. At that time it remained somewhat regional. After World War I, with its massive loss of life, the practice went from just recognition of soldiers lost in America’s civil conflict to include decorating the graves of all who lost their life in war.
It has been a national holiday since 1971 and many decorate graves, not just of military personnel, but also the graves or places of final rest for loved ones and family members. Cemeteries all across the country transform into brilliant spectacles of flags, wreaths and flowers in bloom. The emphasis of civic ceremonies and Memorial Day parades continues to be on those who lost their life in their military service to their country.
It is an important memory. We must remember the dedication and sacrifice of those who died fighting for their country and a belief that they served the cause of freedom. Just as important, the day also brings with it something more. As one looks across the row upon row of military headstones in places like Arlington National Cemetery or the Western Montana State Veteran’s Cemetery, we must also remember the cost of war that is paid for with the lives of young men and women.
May this weekend honor those who lost their lives for country and also bring to memory just how deadly our national choices can be. To remember one and not the other is to do a disservice to those who have given their lives and those who will hopefully never be remembered for death in the midst of war.