Thursday, November 11, 2010

A day to remember

I wonder what comes to your mind when I ask you about the days that you remember best. Are they the big benchmark moments: births and deaths and weddings and graduations? Are they the days of personal achievement, the days when you completed the big project (or started it) or won a promotion or started your own company? Or are they the days of absolute engagement, days when you went to the beach with little kids or let yourself flow into team performance?

Maybe the days you remember are darker. Maybe you remember best the days of struggle or grief, the days when the line between health and death was very thin.

Memory is tricky. We remember what has been important to us or what we need for what is important to us now. We remember strong emotions and we remember what was drilled into us through repetition. Memories change as we remember them, and as we remember remembering them.

On this day, Remembrance Day, we remember something that most of us have not experienced. That is the point, indeed: that people have experienced war so that most of us will not have to experience it. Our freedom and well-being depends on someone freely choosing to walk in dark places, risking life and identity and well-being. We remember because we know, and we remember because we have not had to know.

It's a strange concept, remembering because you have nothing to remember. It's not hard to understand that people let this day slide by without pause, that people who do not have to go to work plan errands and recreation more often than they plan trips to a cenotaph. It's not easy to remember that not remembering is a gift.

It is a gift. When you look at images of soldiers marching today, or of wreaths laid at memorial services, see an image that says: together we believe that not having to remember is a gift. Together we believe that violence is wrong, and destruction is wrong, and tyranny is wrong. That's what the marching means. We know that some people have experienced terrible things on our behalf. We remember that they do not have a choice about remembering. And we remember that we do.

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