“Memory,” wrote author Kevin Arnold, “is the way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”
As I sit here in the early morning darkness, sipping a cup of hot coffee, I’m alone with my memories on this Memorial Day. Memory can be a wonderful blessing. It can bring smiles, laughter or even tears of joy as we look at pictures, share stories, or just reflect on the good times of by gone days.
I remember as a boy going to the cemetery in the little community of Mace, Indiana, on Memorial Day. There my Grandfather, Fred Weliever, who I faintly remember, and an Uncle Floyd, I never knew, were buried. My Grandmother, like many of the older generation, always called it “Decoration Day”. I recall seeing her gently putting flowers on the grave. Moments of silence. A memory shared. A tear wiped away.
In 1959, when I was 11 years old my Granny Key (my Mom’s Mother) passed away. In subsequent years I recall the emotion of going to the Threlkel cemetery in Butler county, Kentucky, where they celebrated “Decoration Day” on the 4th Sunday in May. It was really the first meaningful Memorial Day visit to the grave site of someone I had known and loved. My family impressed on me the importance of paying our respects to those who had passed on, and keeping their memory alive.
Unfortunately with Memorial Day sales, backyard bar-b-ques, and various sporting events, the history and significance of Memorial Day is lost on many of this generation. It’s good to remember why we have Memorial Day.
It is a national holiday to honor those who have given their lives in war. There is no clear record when or where this holiday began. Over two dozen cities and towns lay claim to the birth place of Memorial Day. There is evidence that women’s groups in the South began decorating the graves of Confederate Soldiers before the end of the Civil War.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan and first observed May 30, 1868. In 1971 Congress changed the official celebration to the last Monday in May. It has become a time not only to honor those who sacrificed their lives for our country, but to remember all of our loved ones who have died.
On this memorial day, Norma Jean and I are living in Texas, although she is in Florida, spoiling grandchildren. While I won’t be able to go, she will visit the grave site where my parents are buried. But they are in my memory. Our parents, grandparents, and siblings that have passed on hold a special place in our hearts. We don’t have to visit the cemetery feel the emotions of honor, respect and appreciation.
As I reflect on the lives of my loved ones, it’s not about memories of material possessions, financial success or earthly achievement, but about relationships. Shared times together. And a spiritual legacy passed on from both my father and mother.
One of the great blessings of life is fondly reflecting on the lives of those who have gone on to their reward. The wise man wrote, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing” (Prov. 10:7). The Psalmist expressed it this way: “A good man deals graciously and lends; He will guide his affairs with discretion. Surely he will never be shaken; The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance” (Ps 112:5-6).
Memorial day also reminds me of my own mortality. Indeed death is an appointment we all must keep. My Mom often said, “You know, we’re not put on this earth to live forever.” So, what kind of legacy will I leave? What memories will be shared? What heritage will be passed on to my children’s children?
I fervently pray that the spiritual legacy we received will live on in our children, and now our four grandchildren. I can do nothing about the lives of my friends and loved ones who have gone on. The good or bad of their lives is forever sealed. But I can do something about my life. My decisions. My influence. My legacy.
And so on this memorial day may each of us reflect on various memories that we hold dear, let us begin it with a renewed commitment to live “soberly, righteously and godly in this present world.” Let us “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed.”
Then when it comes to the time of our departure, may it be said like Paul, we have “fought a good fight, we have finished the race, we have keep the faith.” In doing so, we can leave a rich spiritual heritage with good memories that are a blessing to those who remember us.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman