by Joanie Butman
Memorial Day represents more than a three-day weekend, barbecues and fireworks marking the official start of 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 in 1868 as a tribute to those who died in the Civil War.
The importance of remembering shouldn’t be confined to just one day or group of people. It’s imperative for growth whether it’s on a global, national or personal level. Hopefully, as a nation and individually, we learn from our past. Remembering doesn’t have to constitute dwelling unduly on past mistakes, as we can’t move forward if we’re always looking in the rear-view mirror. However, we need to be aware of what’s behind us and have respect for the lessons learned.
Recording and retaining the past prevents history from repeating itself – or at least that’s what one would hope. Once, while having lunch with a friend, 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.”
Even though I’m tempted to exercise selective memory, the regrettable experiences from my past are an integral piece of the person I am today. They wouldn’t be if I denied them or refused to extract 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’d recommend. I’ve always envied people who can learn from other people’s mistakes, instead of being a warning 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. Good thing 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. Even so, the teenage years had critical (albeit painful) teaching moments for both sides. I’ve recorded those too.
There are many who think of God as a strict parent, keeping His own copious notes on our not-so-cute moments. Blessedly, that’s not the case because His love is a perfect love. Make no mistake, He’s taking note of our life, but when He reviews it with us, it will be through the lens of His love. (As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12)
When I think of my children, it isn’t the growing pains I remember. It’s the joy they’ve brought into my life. And so it is with God – the loving Father of perpetual teenagers. Ever since Eve’s first date with the devil, God’s been dealing with snarky, lazy, obstinate, rebellious children who think they know more than Him, and are determined to do things their own way. In fact, He’s left us a lengthy book of examples that could save us a lot of pain and angst if only we’d choose to learn from it.
Reading history of any kind is fascinating whether it’s a book on the Civil War or the Bible. Both are all about remembering our past to improve our future. Studying past military and spiritual battles is important training for both types of warfare. Personally, by choosing to reflect and remember the struggles God has brought me through strengthens and encourages me when facing any new challenge. It’s 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, faith and intimacy.
Choosing to remember our past is vital to our future. It defines who we are and how we got here. 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. So bring on the burgers and fireworks. We have much to celebrate – the freedoms we enjoy in this country and the spiritual freedom from our slavery to sin, both bought through the painful sacrifice of others on our behalf. It’s also an excellent day to remember our national motto on which the founding fathers built this country: IN GOD WE TRUST. 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.