This post was originally published on Memorial Day, 2014. It’s just as timely today.
I’m sitting outside, on my deck, writing the first draft of today’s post. The weather, for me, is ideal. The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. The hollies we planted last fall, which were almost dead from the brutal winter, are showing some green and springing back into life. I’ve planted a few vegetables in the garden (more to come) and from my vantage point I can see that the tomato plants have already gotten a bit taller.
Yesterday, I had a close to perfect day (the only reason I wouldn’t call it “perfect” is because I’m dealing with a thinking, “I can do what I could in my 30s and 40s”, back pain). My faith community’s morning service was beautiful. I then spent the day, outside, with Larry, my daughters and my grandchildren. The kids jumped through the water from the sprinkler, they tossed water balloons back and forth and ran around the property with their dogs, while we sat and talked to each other. There was laughter; one of my favorite sounds. Later, Larry and I had a quiet dinner on the deck, while the sun was setting. Sounds very “Hallmark movie-like” doesn’t it? For me, it was.
Today is Memorial Day in The United States of America. This holiday is a day for formally remembering the men and women who died, while serving in the armed forces. This special day of remembrance began after The America Civil War, to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in that war. There were over 625,000 (almost 2% of the population) casualties of that war, and the sheer enormity of memorializing and burial took on a huge significance. It was originally called “Decoration Day” and was so named because graves were decorated as a form of honoring the dead. This recognition day was renamed to “Memorial Day” in 1882, but wasn’t declared the “official” name until 1967 when a Federal law was passed.
According to The American Heritage Dictionary, a “memorial” is “something such as a monument or a holiday, designed to establish or serve as a remembrance of a person or an event.” In our culture we have many different kinds of memorials; often based on religion, ethnicity or local customs.
“In memoriam” is Latin for “in memory of”. Many of us have ways we remember someone who has died. We may set aside some special time to reflect on the impact that person had on our life. We may journal or pray or throw a party. We may find ourselves sad, or even depressed, especially if the pain of the loss is profound or very fresh. We may question why that person was “taken from us” or how we can possibly live out our remaining days here without that loved one’s presence.
When I look back at the over half-century of life that I’ve already lived, there are so many people who have affected my life in a way that’s been unforgettable. I remember, for example, a man I worked for (and haven’t seen in a least twenty years) who said something so beautiful, yet profound, in its simplicity. One day, when we were talking about some challenges I was having, I said “I just don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel”. Without missing a beat, Gene said to me, “then let those of us who love you hold a flashlight”. All these years later, I can still hear him saying those words.
The much read poet, Lord Alfred Tennyson, wrote the piece “In Memoriam”. The work is composed of 131 smaller poems he wrote from 1833 to 1849 then linked together in 1850. Tennyson wrestled with the reason for his life, but trusted that man was not made simply to die. He believed that we could only reach God through faith, and that he should have an influence on the world. He suffered greatly with the death of his closest friend but believed that his friend still existed in a higher form.
I hold a belief system similar to Tennyson’s, although I’m not able to express it on such an eloquent and poetic level. I’ve often said that I’m curious about what it’s going to be like on the spirit side. I don’t have a “death wish” but, I’m excited to be able to understand why I’ve done (or not done) some things, in this life. I believe that our spirits live on. I believe that everything we say or don’t say, and do or don’t do, changes our realities. I’ve seen, and felt, the pain that just a few unkind or angry words can create. I’ve seen lives that have been painful because of abuse or neglect. I’ve also seen the power of a loving hand, the joy of the gift of time given, and a heart that’s been touched by a word of love.
The last stanza of “In Memoriam” is,
That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.
This Memorial Day, let’s take the time to remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedom we often take for granted. At 3:00 pause for a moment of silence (The “National Moment of Remembrance”).
Remember too, any loved ones who have moved to the other side. Honor those who have come before us and impacted our lives in a positive way.
Finally, think about YOUR walk through this life. How many others has your spirit had the amazing gift to touch? What mark will you make in our world? How will YOU be remembered? What part are you playing in, as Tennyson writes, the way the “whole creation moves“? When you leave this life, what will your epitaph say “in memoriam”?
My hope is for us to live lives filled with love; being our best selves, in our families, in our homes, in our communities and in our world, so that one day, generations that follow us, may enjoy not only a Peace Full Home, but a Peace Full World.
Happy Memorial Day,