Do not grieve for me too much. I am a spirit confident of my rights. Death is only an incident, & not the most important which happens to us in this state of being. ~~~ Winston Churchill (from a letter to his wife, “In the event of my death…”)
This week I will take my yearly trip to Indiantown Gap Military Cemetery, to place flowers on my dad’s grave. Sometimes I am joined by my mom. I have little doubt it will be beautiful up there – it always is – peaceful, serene, and a place that brings with it a sense of comfort as I think of my dad in that sacred ground. Memorial Day is a national holiday that seems to grow more important to you as you age. I guess as young people we are sometimes too busy looking toward the future to have much appreciation for the past. I’m not much of a historian, but the little I know about the origins of the observance, are ofttimes traced to Major General John A. Logan and the desire to honor soldiers who had died in defense of our country during the Civil War. The title of the celebration in those days was Decoration Day, and it remains among us even today as many cemeteries are “decorated” with American flags on the graves of war veterans.
When I came across this short quote from Churchill’s letter to his wife, the phrase which jumped out at me as I thought about Memorial Day was this one: “Meanwhile, look forward, feel free, rejoice in Life, cherish the children, guard my memory. God bless you.” Each of those phrases seem to capture key aspects of our communal and civic life as we observe this national holiday. But what strikes me most powerfully is the one which invites us to “guard my memory.” That seems the most central purpose of this day, and helps to cast the rest of the blessings – the gifts of future, freedom, life and children in an even more powerful light.
So, as you pray and meditate today and maybe even into the rest of the week, ponder this image of “guarding memory.” Think about those many blessings that are nestled within the confines of our memories, so close to our consciousness that a mere thought or word can bring them back with power and presence. Consider what life would be like if we had no memories – no places to visit occasionally for the purpose of solace, reflection, and relived joy. We never want to live exclusively in our memories, but in moderation, they can be places where we find great comfort and peace. They can be places where we rehearse past events that have had formative power upon our lives. They can be places where we have the privilege of honoring those who have made sacrifices for us so that our lives would be better. They can be places where you may celebrate significant turning points in your life. And as you reflect, consider also, that without a God who has been faithful to us, forgiving of our weak moments, and the source of truths that shape us as people and communities … yes, that without that God, we might have few significant things for which to give thanks and honor.