Its a fine line, knowing when to move on. Tragedy has a way of stopping us in our tracks, we memorialize it and are taken back to the event in a real and tangible way. Its as if we are reliving the horror once again. This activity can serve too reignite our passions for reprisal, or the forces for change. It can revive us in a process of healing, but it can also debilitate us into lethargy.
I awoke thinking of the soon to arrive anniversary of September 11, a near unparalleled day in our living American memory. The planes flying into the towers, watching in horror as people fell to their deaths, and the massive clouds of debris engulfing the city as the buildings then collapsed. We remember where we were and how it affected us personally. It isn’t difficult to be transported back to that day while you hear the multitudes of names read which represent the innocent who were murdered. Images, snapshots if you will, can be quickly brought back into focus.
When we take the time to remember the fallen, we honor them.
After the Civil War they had an annual gatherings for the survivors. If you have ever watched Ken Burns’ documentary, you are certainly given a detailed account of what it was like to be there. NPR ran a story about the last living Civil Wars veterans in 2009. Commentator John McDonough’s entire interview can be found here. As he mused about the final Civil War memorial gathering, 75 years after the bloody carnage at Gettysburg, he opened with these thoughts.
“Certain rituals of remembrance mark our stepping stones into the present. These rituals take on a special importance and urgency when there are still witnesses to link us to our past. But living memory is fragile and obeys the laws of supply and demand – cheap in bounty, but treasured in scarcity.”
And he closed with this,
“The rule is, by looking back, sometimes you can see forward.”
I didn’t agree with that last statement initially. The difficulties of my life haven’t been a sign pointing toward the future, but instead a invisible force keeping me locked in the prison of my past. I suppose the more personal something is, the more it pervades our lives and is part off the fabric of who we are.
Watching the old footage of these reunions, you see men wearing their uniforms proudly, they smile, shake hands with former enemies, and reminisce about the past. On the very battlefield they fought, and so many died, they reenact, and also show the unity of having experienced the same events.
What is our point of reference for that time in American history? It is so distant, it is difficult to find an emotional connection, but that doesn’t detract from the importance of it, the change it brought, and the toll it took on the lives of those living during that time.
Each of our lives is similar to these momentous historical events. The tragedies we have endured, the cost that has been exacted, and the loss in our lives is very real. The problem becomes when the memory of these things causes us to stay in them and not move forward.
Not so very long ago I defended my stance in continuing to call out some aspects of the religious community to action. I spent many weeks writing the same thing from various analogous viewpoints to make the case for what I see as needed and essential change. I stand by those sentiments, and hold them within my heart as true and necessary, though admittedly colored by my personal experience.
I have memorialized the events in my life. I have given them due respect and analysis in processing their effect on me and those who have known me over the years. I have, in doing this, come to understand myself better, and given myself the opportunity to grieve and to reflect on how I am changed because of it.
I know that in doing this fully we can find ourselves in a spot from which it seems we cannot move on. There is a danger there, because unlike Gettysburg or 9/11, we are personally involved in it, the central characters in this real, unfolding drama. We live the daily reminders and are left to deal with the aftermath ourselves. As we move through our days we come upon the anniversaries of the tragedies of our lives. Significant events that have changed us to the core, and hurt us beyond the expression of words.
Today, let us consider what motivates our lives. Are we stuck in a pattern that doesn’t allow us to move forward? Have the difficulties and sad ironies of living caused us to stop and lie down, refusing relief and reliving the horror of the past in continuous personal flagellation? Can we accept forgiveness for our misdeeds, or forgive those who have harmed us so terribly? Do we find safety in not moving from this epic memorial we have erected? Or, are we just giving ourselves the time necessary to fully appreciate, or heal from what has taken place?
Only you know how long your own memorials must last, but I will say this; we cannot linger forever in that place of tears and sadness. To remain in bitterness and anger, dwelling on thoughts of revenge and staying mired in the paralyzing fear of moving forward, we go from duly working through the fact of their occurrence, to permitting them to destroy our hope, peace, and joy.
Take a few moments and ponder these thoughts as this song plays. I am going to close my eyes, receive its truth and keep moving forward.