Choose to Remember

by Joanie Butman

Memorial Day is about so much more than a three-day weekend, picnics, barbecues and fireworks marking the official start of the summer. Unfortunately, its true meaning has been diluted by retail sales and festivities that do little to commemorate the men and women who have died in service to our country. Originally called Decoration Day, the observance of Memorial Day began as a tribute to those who died in the Civil War. “Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5th, 1868 by General John Logan and was first observed on May 30th, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.”*

In a broader sense, the importance of remembering can’t be confined to just one day. It is imperative for growth whether it is on a global, national or personal level. Obviously, our national holiday of Memorial Day pays homage to those who died valiantly in the process of protecting our country and preserving the freedoms we are so blessed to enjoy. Maintaining the memory of those that have gone before us is a large part of Memorial Day but so is recalling the lessons we learned through the wars in which they perished.

Recording and retaining the past prevents history from repeating itself – or at least that’s what one would hope. Last year I was having lunch with a friend when someone she knew stopped by our table to say hello. I can’t tell you how the subject came up, but this man began telling me stories of his adolescence spent in Auschwitz. I was spellbound. I asked if he would allow me to write his story, but he replied mournfully that some things are just too horrible to talk about. He spoke of his recurring nightmares and of his sister’s life-long dedication to visiting schools to share her story. Though he found it impossible to verbalize the atrocities he witnessed as openly as his sister, the few he chose to reveal provided a glimpse of the horror buried in his psyche. As he turned to leave, he offered this last haunting comment, “As hard as it is, it is essential to remember, because it can and will happen again in your lifetime.”

As I mentioned, hopefully, as a nation and individually we learn from our past. Remembering doesn’t mean dwelling on past mistakes or resting on our laurels. You can’t move forward if you’re always looking in the rear-view mirror. However, you need to be aware of what’s behind you and keep it at a healthy distance with respect for the lessons you learned.

There are periods of my life I’d prefer to forget, but I have a girlfriend that remembers every detail and is more than happy to enlighten me. Even though I might be tempted to choose selective memory, those forgettable (or regrettable) experiences are an integral piece of the person I am today. They wouldn’t be if I denied them or refused to derive any meaning from them. The truth is, for reasons I can’t explain; I choose to learn things the hard way, and it’s not a strategy I would recommend. I’ve always envied people who can just learn from other people’s mistakes instead of being the one others learn from.

Remembering was the reason I began writing. It started when my children were born. I kept ongoing notes about cute or funny things they did. I’m glad I did because even though you think you’ll never forget, you do. It’s fun to go back and read my annotations – the memories vivid only because they were chronicled. When my kids became teenagers, my notes got sketchier as there weren’t a lot of ‘cute’ moments to document any longer, and many will only be funny years from now with time as a buffer. I’d say the teenage years are best forgotten, but critical and often painful teaching moments reside in those tumultuous years (I’ve recorded those too). Remembering those lessons will serve my kids well in life and in future therapy sessions. I’ve often claimed my notes will save them lots of money in therapy someday!

My books are just extensions of those anecdotes I kept for my children – only I’m the child writing about what God has done for me. Again, you wouldn’t think you’d forget a divine intervention, but you’d be amazed at how quickly a “What have you done for me lately?” attitude creeps into your subconscious. Unless you make a deliberate choice to recognize and remember God’s providence and provisions, they tend to fade under whatever new crisis you find yourself in. So I write and write and write….

Studying history of any kind is a fascinating effort whether it is a book on the Civil War or the Bible. Both are all about remembering. On a more personal level, by choosing to look back and remember what God has brought me through strengthens and encourages me when facing any new challenge. It is often only in hindsight that His handiwork becomes obvious. It might take years before you recognize that your worst nightmare was actually a blessing in many ways – sometimes even a saving grace. Our life experiences are building blocks with which we develop an intimate knowledge of God’s character and sovereignty, which builds trust and faith.

Like my new acquaintance instructed, “remembering the past is vital to our future.” It certainly is. It defines who we are and how we got there. Tomorrow we honor the heroes who willingly died fighting to protect our country. I think it is also an excellent opportunity to choose to remember, honor, preserve and protect our National motto: IN GOD WE TRUST

After all, He is the One who provides His care and protection everyday. How better to define who we are and how we got here? That motto is the foundation on which our founding fathers built this country. I know there are many who may find it politically incorrect. I respect their right to that belief and am grateful to live in a country where they are free to express it. Nevertheless, you can’t rewrite history. It speaks for itself.