Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Coming home past the cemetery yesterday, every grave marker covered with a flag. There's something sad to me about that--that we cover these lives with a flag and call it remembrance. It seems to me that remembrance is not about country, but about people. The country is here, and people fought for it. But I believe it's a day for remembering the people more than the country. How do you do that?

San Francisco National Cemetery


Anonymous said...

Apparently the very first Civil War soldiers and their families used flowers as well as flags:

I went to a different kind of memorial day on Sunday, the annual Polish pilgrimage to Montmorency, which has happened every year since 1843. An honor guard carried flags up front, the Polish Catholic mission sent a priest, and a procession of men, women, and children meandered along with them, stopping at special graves along the way. At each stop, someone read a remembrance and left a bouquet.

We heard about all sorts of people over the course of the afternoon: the founding members of the Polish Literary and Historical Society of Paris in the 1830s, the great Polish poets of the romantic era, the military and civilian dead of World War II, those who survived Nazi invasion and those who did not, those who survived concentration camps and those who did not, those who survived Communist occupation and those who did not.

Sometimes people spoke about their friends and colleagues, local figures such as Leszek Talko, the director of the Polish Library of Paris, who died in 2003, for example. Sometimes they left flowers and declined the chance to speak. Sometimes they would remember one person or another in a side conversation without making any public signal at all.

Poland was certainly present - we sang the national anthem and some other Polish songs that everyone seemed to know - but, perhaps especially because the day began with a mass in French and Polish, it felt more like All Saints Day or All Souls Day, a day to honor the presence of the dead among the living, a day to hold them close and feel them near.

Would this come closer to what you have in mind?

LKT said...

I think it would.

Upon further reflection, one of the things that really disturbs me is how much rhetorical effort is spent on proving that we are patriotic. At least that's how it feels. Perhaps what would help me is to start with the assumption that Americans love their country so that the focus can be on those being commemorated.

Kurt said...

Thanks for the thoughts LKT. I tackled this some in Sunday's sermon: