Some things are best forgotten. Some things ought never to be forgotten.
Memorial Day challenges us on both counts.
The Difficulties of Remembering
Forgetting is usually easy, remembering is usually hard work.
It can be hard because there are some things we’d rather forget but, instead, find ourselves haunted and scarred and tormented by these memories.
These nightmares remain with us despite all efforts to numb the pain.
It can be hard because, however precious, our good remembrances get buried under a constant stream of current memories until they lie many layers underneath.
So the challenge isn’t whether or not to remember, but which things are best forgotten and which things are best retained.
It’s why we all struggle with both the failure to forget, and the failure to remember.
Concerted Effort Needed
Forgetting just happens and gets worse and worse with time.
Remembering requires the cultivation of a habit, the purposeful keeping alive of associations and images in order to retain them.
It recognizes that, given enough time, even those most precious to us will be forgotten because we can never pass along all our memories to our children.
My parents are much more real to me than my grandparents, and, as a child born to parents in their mid-thirties, I have have little memory at all of my great-grandparents.
Remembering fights against the passage of time, the passing of generations, and the erasure of memories.
It requires a daily choice to remember to the point of being unforgotten.
The Cost of Forgetting
Forgetting robs us of lessons learned, of faces treasured, of good events that mark us.
Forgetting also can be blessed amnesia for past horrors, a reducer of the intensity of the traumas of the past and painful incidents that also mark us.
Remembering, on the other hand, allows us to keep fresh the people that we ought never to lose sight of because we love them.
It allows us to cherish those who didn’t return from war, to recall past worthy causes and necessary conflicts for which they gave their lives.
It is why we have Memorial Day.
The Healing Power of Remembering
Two incidents come to mind.
The first happened at one of the last soldiers’ reunions at Gettysburg in the 1920’s.
The men in blue and the men in gray reenacted Pickett’s Charge one last time.
The old men from the South slowly made their way across the killing fields to the same stone fences where so many of them died, manned by their fellow elders from the North.
But when they got there after letting out a few Rebel yells, a strange thing happened.
The men in Blue jumped over the fence, ran to them, and embraced them.
There they wept on each other’s shoulders.
The fraternity of memory had erased all hostility and transformed these soldiers into brothers–leaving nothing but love for their fellow Americans and the shared memory of an event that shaped all their remaining lives.
The same thing happened in the 1980’s on a lonely Pacific Island between aged American and Japanese soldiers.
The lifelong emotional and physical battle scars of war united the former enemies, and the power of shared memories proved greater in the end than the causes of their youth.
Permission to Remember
So go ahead and remember lost loved ones–both those lost to war and those taken by old age, disease, or accident.
Let the tears come.
Let the ache arise and the space they left behind simply be there–acknowledged and grieved, but also treasured and enjoyed.
Remember that even Christ says, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”
Don’t forget them. Don’t forget Him.