Sleep on This: Memory Day (May 25)
Good evening, friend!
As I stirred from sleep early this Memorial Day morning, this thought popped into my mind: “How can I remember what I never knew?” On a day devoted to memories, how can I remember something I never experienced?
The Old Testament is replete with verses that urge the people of Israel to “remember” Egypt and their deliverance. But if you didn’t experience Egypt, how can you remember Egypt?
My children can never “remember” Vietnam. They weren’t there. For that matter, I only barely remember it. The war ended before I would have been drafted. But I do remember my friend’s brother who fought in Vietnam. He returned alive, which was nigh unto miraculous since, as a dog-handler, he was ALWAYS at point on jungle patrols. The mortality rate for those guys was astronomical.
Tim returned uninjured…physically. But the emotional toll of combat, of coming home to a nation that spat on its returning vets…literally… changed him for the rest of his life. I remember that. My kids don’t. And can’t.
Just as I can’t “remember” World War II. And my parents can’t “remember” World War I. And their parents can’t “remember” the Civil War.
The ONLY way we can remember…memorialize… the horrible events of wars past is to listen to the voices of those who were there when we were not. Welcome their reminiscences rather than rolling our eyes at them. And receive with humility the warnings regarding monstrous regimes from the past, mindful that the toxic tendencies of power are immortal.
One way to remember is to travel. I entered East Berlin in 1985 when it was still under Communist control. I talked to a Christian friend who spoke—very quietly—about the oppression the experienced.
I walked through the Dachau concentration camp and was struck by how relatively new some of the buildings were. I realized that my grade school was older than these structures that had so recently housed the “outcasts” of Nazi society. “Old news” was suddenly very new and real to me.
I took my children to Budapest with a woman who was present when Communist forces opened fire on the crowd in which she stood. She pointed out the bullet holes in the wall above our heads. She told of their extreme caution at not offending neighbors lest they report you on some trumped-up charge and the black car would arrive at night and take you away.
As I reflect upon this Memorial Day, it strikes me that the ONLY way we can remember beyond our own tiny chunk of personal history is to listen with humility and interest to the voices of those who actually DID experience these things before us.
On Sunday, Cyndi and I joined a couple of hundred Christians on the steps of our capitol building for a time of prayer and worship. It was sweetly non-partisan. Prayers of blessing and guidance were offered for all our political leaders, including our governor and his wife by name. I was grateful for that. Even as I prayed in a circle with others, I was struck by the gift that is the freedom to openly worship God right on the steps of your government headquarters.
As we returned to our car, I noticed a statue…an old one. It honors those who have fallen in battle.
On the side of the plinth were Jesus’ words: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”’
I cannot remember what I never knew. But I can listen to the voices past who remind me how precious is the gift of freedom we too easily take for granted. So can you.
Dear Lord, as I lay me down to sleep, fill me with gratitude for those unknown, unseen patriots who spilled their lifeblood so that I might lie here in peace and freedom. Make me humble so that I might listen to the voices of those who remember what I never knew…and help me pass this on to the next generation. Amen.