As Memorial Day approaches this year, I find myself thinking alot about the importance of remembering. I am especially remembering my dad who passed away six years ago, as he was one of the fortunate few to have survived the invasion of Utah Beach on D-Day. Many of his friends died by his side that day and I know he always painfully remembered both their friendship and their bravery on subsequent Memorial Days. He always said it was very important to remember those friends, and what they gave of themselves.
I have also been thinking about both the importance and the power of remembering as I recently reconnected with a friend that I hadn’t seen or spoken with for many years. The conversation was electric as we discussed over coffee stories experiences that we had shared, ones that are unique to our friendship, and therefore could only be shared and remembered by the two of us. The more we talked, the more we remembered, and before we knew it two hours had passed, and yet it felt like we had just sat down.
Such is the power of remembering. Such is the power of having someone else remember something about us and about our shared history. We are all, I’m sure, warmed by the experience of someone saying to us, “I have this wonderful memory of you, of the time when you………” To be remembered is to feel honored and cared for.
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 even 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. As we both 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.