Reflections of the Way We Were, Are, and Hope to Be

Column by Jim Bishop

Does anyone actually spend time lost in a morass of memories on Memorial Day weekend?

I do, and I want to believe that many more of you do too. We may focus on quite diverse themes and images, but the important thing is that we do some serious reflecting on a regular basis.

According to those helpful folks at Wikipedia, Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday, formerly known as Decoration Day, which is observed on the last Monday of May. It began first to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include those who died in any war or military action.

The running of the Indianapolis 500 has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911, and we’ve been going around in circles ever since. It is also traditionally viewed as the beginning of summer. (Watch for gas to spill over $4 a gallon to celebrate the occasion. I know we’ve already decided that Ocean City, N.J., isn’t in our travel plans this year).

Let’s admit it – we anticipate Memorial Day because many of us get a day off from our regular work. But that doesn’t excuse us from remembering why it’s a public holiday in the first place.

Memories are revived in many ways:

* We take photographs to help us remember momentous occasions. We place these images in albums and scrapbooks and return to them periodically to remind us from whence we came and of those around us who play significant roles and help make a difference in our lives.

* Similarly to photographic images, we collect music and record programs from television to capture and freeze moments in time. While impossible to actually do, I yearn to turn back the hands of time and relive some of these recorded events – even those tough times, financially and otherwise. It’s hard for me not to watch our old home movies of our daughters and extended family without getting emotionally wrought.

* We talk to older adults, or we should, probing their memories to help us get a better grasp on the present and to plan for the future. My last such encounters were with Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community residents Sara Graybill Herr, who turned 100 several weeks ago, and Paul T. Guengerich, whom I visited on his 95th birthday. Both are dealing with major physical limitations but are well aware of what’s going on around them. They’re striking examples of growing old grayfully and gracefully, and I can still learn from their stories and example.

Invariably, each time I call my 86-year-old mother in Pennsylvania, she recounts an experience, a person, a memorable quote from the past. These memories of glory days help keep Mom going, even as her quality of life decelerates.

Without vivid memories, we’re not the same people. Without memories, we teeter on rather shaky ground, not completely certain of who we are or from where we came.

We thrive on rekindled pleasant memories, but we’re also shaped, sometimes traumatized, by painful memories of hardships, mangled relationships, grievous disappointments.

We may survive and emerge as stronger, more resilient persons through difficult experiences. Nonetheless, certain memories are bound to remain ingrained that we’d like to permanently erase, even if not possible. That’s all right, as long as they don’t leave us confused, helpless, immobilized.

Memories brighten and help guide our present paths. We ought to spend time regularly reflecting on the past as long as we don’t set up residency there. These embedded images can teach us much about ourselves and our present circumstances, give us hope and help us prepare to face the future unknown.

Thank God for memories.

Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be reached at bishopj@emu.edu.


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