Our Need to Remember
This past weekend my wife and I were in Washington DC leading a training for people who will be using our Living Compass wellness resources in their communities. We had limited free time, but were determined to get to one particular memorial, one that had opened since our last visit to the DC area, the World War II Memorial.
My father served in the Navy during World War II and at the age of twenty-one was on one of the first landing craft vehicles to land on Utah Beach on D-Day. In his later years (he died in 2011 at the age of eighty-eight) he often talked of his friends who died around him that fateful day, wondering why he had survived and had lived a long life while their lives had been cut short.
Visiting the World War II was, not surprisingly, an emotional experience for me, as it clearly was for the others who were there. Each state has a memorial column and wreath (see the photo of the World War II Memorial with the quote above), and so we made our way to the Pennsylvania column, as my Dad had entered World War II just after graduating from high school in Pittsburgh. We had a moment of silence and prayer and gave thanks for his service, and especially remembered all of those whom he knew, along with hundreds of thousands of others who gave their lives in the service of our country during that war, and in others.
The same evening we visited the World War II Memorial, we also visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The word “memorial” comes from the same root at the word “remember,” and the presence of these various memorials in Washington, DC speaks of our collective need as a nation to remember the formative events in our history.
The act of remembering is as important in each of our personal lives as it is in the history of our nation. Memory is the foundation of culture and identity, and our enhanced capacity for memory is what separates us from all other living creatures. Identity is rooted in knowing and remembering our origin and history, whether it be that of an individual, a family, an institution, a country, or a religion. And identity and meaning are strengthened when we gather and share our stories.
This connection between memory, identity, and meaning is the reason we as a nation will once again celebrate Memorial Day this Monday. On Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who have given their lives in service to our country, and we honor the fact that our collective identity today is rooted in their sacrifice. As Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, said, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
While I affirm the wisdom of “living in the present moment” and not getting “stuck in the past,” I also know that we can become “stuck in the present’ when we fail to remember how much our present, our identity, and our culture are all shaped by our history. Memorial Day weekend provides us with the perfect chance to balance both the present and the past. And so as we gather for fun with friends and family, let’s also make time to remember and give thanks for those who have gone before us, shaping our lives today.
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