Memorial Day is a time to remember.
Remembering soldiers who lost their lives in service of the country can be vague and vacuous if not personalized. If you know someone who died in the service — a family member or close friend — remembering is easier. Their absence gnaws on you as you miss them in all the places and at all the times you would have shared with them.
Veterans, and those who have lost loved ones in wars, feel a double hurt when people make no effort to remember the sacrifices of the dead or the families they left behind. Remembering starts with desire and requires work.
A lot of us are bad with names. Not Ron White. The former Navy Intelligence officer and memory expert decided this past year to memorize the name and rank of all 2,200 fallen American soldiers from the war in Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Memory took him 10 months. Mission accomplished.
“I just wanted to acknowledge Petty Officer Third Class Matthew O’Brien was an individual person. Bruno Del Sol was an individual person,” White said. “I just want them to grasp the fact that the sacrifice for our country is significant.”
Jews closely link memory and immortality. For God to “remember you no more” is tantamount to being deprived not only of life in the age to come but also of any significant legacy in the life left behind. It means to be blotted out, as if you had never lived. Conversely, for God to remember you means that you have a share in the age to come and remain a part of God’s redemptive work of healing this broken world.
Christians, too, link God’s memory and eternal life. Consider a computer analogy in the age of cloud technology. Our great fear in the computer age is that we will lose everything we had done, that our backups will fail with a hardware breakdown, and all we have worked on will be lost forever. But now all our data can be uploaded to iCloud or its kin. It will be remembered there in perpetuity (password protected!), and then can be downloaded again into new hardware when the old machine wears out.
We may think of God’s memory of our unique personality and life work as a Christian doctrine of immortality that awaits the resurrection of the body and the final act of new creation when we shall be restored and healed — body and soul.
To remember those who have fallen in sacrificial service is an act of spiritual likeness to God. It shows love and honor. To save a life in our memory is akin to God’s great act of salvation. To forget, on the other hand, is to fall a notch from godlikeness toward the abyss of self-centeredness. Forgetfulness due to apathy (not dementia) is a symptom of spiritual lostness.
Memorial Day is about us, then, too. Whether you remember by visiting a national cemetery, welcoming home troops at the airport, walking the Katy Trail in the Carry the Load effort, or simply naming a name to God in prayer, take time to remember and be grateful.
There is no greater love, Jesus said, than to lay down your life for a friend. He ought to know. And we ought to know enough and love enough to at least remember.