I was thinking about Memorial Day. I’ve gone to picnics and pool parties for it since I was a kid. But what is the meaning of this holiday anyway? To remember the people who have died in war, of course. Okay, well yes, a lot of people have given their lives, necessarily or unnecessarily, to maintain some sense of freedom for people in this country. But are we celebrating that by having a cook-out? Seems to be severely lacking in gravity to me. It seems that in general, Memorial Day is not often used as a platform to engage in any sort of meaningful ritual or ceremony to commemorate the dead.
Politics being what it is, it’s hard not to be cynical about the senseless loss of more lives in the Iraq war than were lost in 9/11 – not to mention the complete devastation of that country. On CNN yesterday I heard a report about how 90% of the children in Iraq have learning disabilities from living in a constant state of fear.
I found a website that explained the history of Memorial Day. The author lamented that the holiday has fallen into disuetude: “Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.” For more click here.
In a way, remembering the dead honors that person – but the honoring is more useful to the living than it is to the dead – If it is about upholding the spirit with which that person walked through life. The honoring is really only for those of us still trying to live – it reminds us of what is possible and it inspires us. And then there’s the question of what do we want others to remember about us when we’re gone?
I have loved this world.
I have looked at the earth with wonder-struck eyes.
In days of flowering, I have composed songs.
Those songs are touched by my deep inner love.
Let those songs carry my sweet memory,
and let all else of me perish.
-Translation of a Bengali song by Shrii Shrii Anandmurti
So who do you remember that inspires you? What do you remember about that person? What is the value of that remembrance for you?
There’s a state of remembering that the yogis talk about called Dhruva Smriti. It means being able to constantly remember who you are. In other words, the memory is not of past events or regrets. It’s just remembering that the reality of who I am is much deeper than the passing events that I get caught up in. Now that would be something to celebrate.