Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day—Lest We Forget Why…

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

For those of you observing Memorial Day today, I wish you peace.

Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (in 2008 on May 26). It commemorates U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to their country. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War, it was expanded after World War I to include casualties of any war or military action.

The day, not unlike our Remembrance Day in Canada, the UK and other Commonwealth countries (observed on November 11th to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918. ) is typically spent visiting cemeteries and memorials and observing a moment of silent remembrance. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. US Eastern time. The U.S. flag may be flown at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers usually place an American flag upon each grave site located in a National Cemetery.

It is certainly a time to think of those who gave their lives for freedom and their country. It is also a reminder of the atrocity of war in all its forms.

War is a paradox. It is both tragic and an opportunity. The very action of being at war, seems to galvanizes us and polarize us. War heightens contrast, increases pitch, and resonates through us in ways we have no inkling. It brings out the very worst but also the very best in us; for, as some of us sink into despair and debauchery to help ourselves, others heroically rise in service and humble sacrifice to help others. War defines us, perhaps like no other phenomenon.

Charles Dickens wrote in “A Tale of Two Cities” of a violent and turbulent time during the French Revolution:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of
wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the
epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything
before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were
all going direct the other way…

Memorial Day is a time to remember the past and to realize our future. Sometimes that means finding peace amidst calamity; balance amid chaos; grace within turmoil ; light inside the darkness; and joy from sadness.

Let us remember, so that those who follow us have a chance to remember too…

Now, please indulge me by going back up to the top photo. This is an amazing and stirring photograph by Daniel Wood. I was first struck by the sepia-tones of the graveyard contrasted with the red blooms of roses in the foreground (appropriately suggesting the bloodshed of war). It suddenly reminded me of the little girl in the red coat in Spielberg's film Shindler's List. The girl's coat was the sole item in an otherwise black and white film that had a colour. It singled her out, a “real person” in an anonymous sea of atrocity, a sea so large and horrific we cannot comprehend nor want to even think of and therefore ignore. Schindler could not ignore that little girl once he’d set his mind (and heart) to single her out. That was the turning point for him and he could no longer deny his compassion for those oppressed people.

The red rose of courage, passion and true love blooms in front of the dark graves of men and women who died for freedom, justice and honour; a symbol of everlasting peace and hope and a reminder that we must remain vigilant and honourable.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Beautifully written, Nina, and a fine tribute to those who gave their lives in conflicts.

sfgirl said...

Thank you, Jean-luc. Like in the UK, we in Canada observe Remembrance Day on November 11th. It's also call it Armistice Day, the event it commemorates, and is related to Veterans Day in the United States. Some Canadians call it Poppy Day:

The poppy's significance to Remembrance Day comes from Canadian military physician John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields. The poppy emblem was chosen because of the poppies that bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their red colour an appropriate symbol for the bloodshed of trench warfare. A Frenchwoman, Anna E. Guérin, introduced the widely used artificial poppies given out today. Some people choose to wear white poppies, which emphasises a desire for peaceful alternatives to military action.