On thy grave the rain shall fall from the eyes of a mighty nation!
Thomas William Parsons
A dismal day for parades and celebrations, but perhaps in another way ironically appropriate. Certainly those we remember faced far greater difficulties than we do as we face this day. Let us remember…
We have a large population of people in America who cannot go anywhere without their GPS–even to places in their own town that they truly were able to find, on their own, just four or five years ago. But now they must take their mobile performance support system with them. They have become completely dependent on the box. I can’t help but think they are in danger of losing the skill of thinking their way through a route by, say, using a map. Or perhaps they have never even learned to read a map!
I’m a huge fan of technology, make no mistake. Even on a short trip to Bangor I’ll often “fire up” Greta (Garmin). She helps me keep a sense of my progress and estimated arrival time. She reminds me occasionally to make a turn and sometimes annoys me when I deviate slightly to stop for coffee with her constant recalculating. I confess I somewhat enjoy taking a shortcut that she doesn’t have in her data bank.
We have a tenuous relationship because I refuse to yield my independent thought and directional capabilities to the support system she represents. I gently remind her that she has, more than once, let me down. I like to think I can still get myself out of a lost situation when she leads me astray. I’m discovering that the only time I can’t get myself out is when I’ve been blindly following her commands without thinking or paying some attention to where she’s sending me.
Developing a dependency on her not only may dull the senses, I get concerned it might even reduce my sense of adventure. (I am rarely lost, but have been known to have some adventures.) A few years ago I had a great deal of trouble locating a hotel where I had a reservation. My repeated attempts took me past a visitor information center so I decided to get Greta some help. After briefly stating my problem, the staffer said, “Well, the first thing you have to do is turn off the GPS.” I chuckled at this suggestion as he grabbed a pen and unfolded a paper map, and we ultimately had an interesting conversation covering topics such as “sense of direction,” conflicting messages, and self-reliance in a world that’s increasingly driven by technology.
“Getting lost” may be more about losing a sense of place than about finding things. I learned years ago when hiking in the woods that’s it’s important to turn around frequently–the world is going to look differently on the return trip. We become lost when we aren’t feeling oriented or connected to our surroundings. “This doesn’t look right! Where am I?”
As vacation travel season approaches I usually rethink my relationship with Greta. I remind myself she’s pretty good when it comes to goal orientation, but she’s not likely to say things like, “Did you notice…” or “You know, you could try…” Perhaps some day technology will develop sufficiently for Greta to say things like “Nice lane change!” and “you noticed that before I did…” It would reinforce the fact that she’s working for me, it’s not the other way around. I think she should give me a little more credit than she does.
But for now, it’s going to be up to me to be aware of my surroundings–the way it should be. Better yet, it’s my trip and my vacation. Since I gave her the goal, I can change it. For that matter, since it’s vacation, there will be mornings when there is no goal. She’ll spend a lot of time in “map only” mode as we meander. In the kindest way possible, I’ll let her know, “If I need your help today, I’ll ask for it. Let me see what I can find on my own.”
During a trip through a store recently I found it necessary to wind my way around cases of beer stacked in the aisle. It didn’t take long to recognize this was part of society’s preparation for yet another Memorial Day. I’m not a member of the Temperance Union, so I do not see this as a bad thing.
The day was actually filled with reminders. There was the obligatory stop to deposit a donation in a volunteer fireman’s boot… the need to slow and swerve around the work crews installing flags on the utility poles throughout towns in the area… and the buzzing of lawn mowers and trimmers when driving by cemeteries.
There’s a lot to love about Memorial Day, really. A memorial is most typically an object, designed to focus memory of something—a person or an event. Memorial Day is meant to remind us of the people who died while serving in the armed forces. Wikipedia puts that number at approximately 1,354,000 for all wars. That is a sobering statistic and a lot of remembering.
But these are not just faceless numbers and names, either. Little effort is required to see them, even if only in our minds and hearts.
An admirable characteristic of our society is that we are willing to memorialize these men and women. We do so in many ways—from granite monuments to parades and ceremonies, we do remember.
One Memorial Day reminder that I haven’t had yet this year is my annual purchase of a poppy. I have past purchases scattered around, attached to jackets, and the lamp beside the bed. I could probably find one in my jewelry box. But it’s the act of purchasing that is important, perhaps because I get to see a face and shake hands with someone who served. I fear this is a fading tradition, even as we celebrate its 100th anniversary. In 1915, Moina Michael came up with the idea of wearing a red poppy in honor of those who died in war. She also sold poppies to friends and coworkers with the proceeds going to benefit servicemen in need.
The program was adopted by the VFW in 1922 and became both a source of income and an important memorial. Most are at least casually familiar with the poem “In Flanders Fields.” Few are aware that it was the inspiration for Moina’s own poem and her poppy program.
We cherish too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
While we are willing to memorialize these men and woman, I think Moina understood an important truth. If we were not willing to march or watch… if we were not willing to purchase and hang flags throughout our communities… if we did not visit cemeteries and erect monuments… (all important things we should do)… there are still undeniable signals—some as simple as a red poppy—to remind us that the blood of heroes never dies.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”
L. M. Montgomery
For me, Memorial Day is always a day of reflection and tradition. Unfortunately, one tradition has been lost because of distance. And yet it has not been lost because of memory.
Some of my most vivid childhood memories center on this day. I remember multiple trips to the cemetery with my father. We would retrieve the flag holder from his father’s grave for wire brushing and a fresh coat of paint before the new flags were placed. I felt a special sense of pride that Grandfather had two flags–British and American, although I didn’t fully understand why at the time.
Of course there was grass to trim and flowers to plant. We also had to go to the Legion Hall because there were rifles to clean and ready. Dad led the honor guard and he strove for perfection. To this day, I long to hear “one shot” when the volley is fired. And after all these years, I consider myself fortunate that I can still remember those days when the whole town turned out to follow the parade. I wish we still did that.
Dad served in the Navy, stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. I believe he strove for perfection because it a way of honoring and remembering those who didn’t come home. In the too few years he and I had together he taught me many things. On Memorial Day I learned “This is important.”
I was five when my Dad was laid to rest next to his father. When old enough I accepted the responsibility for maintaining the family plot. For a while I was able to share it with my daughter Bethanie.
Time has passed. Life has happened. And while I miss actually making those preparations I am pleased they are not lost.
Today is a day for remembering and there is much to remember. I’ll be at our town parade. Most of these parades get a little shorter every year. The news reports that one town in Massachusetts will not have a parade, “There aren’t enough veterans.” But in my mind I’ll see an endless line of veterans marching. They are not lost. I’ll probably get a lump in my throat when taps are played. But I’ll smile when I remember that the term “taps” originates from the Dutch term taptoe, meaning “close the beer taps and send the troops back to camp.”
Remembering and reflecting does not have to be about loss. “Nothing is ever really lost as long as we remember it.”
Day is done, gone the sun From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky All is well, safely rest God is nigh. Fading light dims the sight And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright From afar, drawing near Falls the night. Thanks and praise for our days Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky As we go, this we know God is nigh.
Walter Boomsma (“Mr. Boomsma”) writes on a wide array of topics including personal development, teaching and learning. Course information is also available here!