People are capable of only recalling and mediating on so many things in any given day. So, the chances of a population going through the same level and focus of recall and remembrance is especially rare and improbable. Perhaps, people from ancient times developed holidays to not let an entire culture forget certain key aspects of itself and, in this way, to help it keep going.
The purpose of holidays, therefore, is to have a cultural body purposefully remember a single fact, notion, or event that that people does not wish to forget. It is a very future-oriented tradition; for the creators of a holiday wish that generations of people yet born would one day know what the present generation knows. In this sense a holiday is almost a natural time machine or time capsule, transmitting thoughts and feelings from one culture and time period to another. It also acts a method to preserve culture between the two generations: the one that is present, and “real,” and the one that is future, and “not real” – the time here and the time to come.
So, what is the meaning of this holiday? I don’t wish to conjure up false feelings of grief or remorse – especially when such a feeling is unnecessary. As a student of grief, in both theory and practice, I fully acknowledge and preach that one is not supposed to suppress nor manufacture feelings associated with the grieving process. (For example, tears may not be the best thing for you personally to experience, or it may be for you but right now is a bad time!) So, is the purpose of Memorial Day – today’s holiday – supposed to evict in us observing American citizens feelings of self-condemnation or pain? No. It is a day that is meant to meaningfully, however that might be, and collectively not forget the people who have died: died in the line of duty, died (in this nation’s case) not just for a country – for America is more than a country – but for ideals, principles, and freedom.
I give thanks for the men and women brave enough to, in effect, give their very own lives for me – trading their potentials for mine. They fought – and not in vain! – for me to tap into my God-given potential in a society that is free enough for me to discover my potential and eventually to execute it in a moral and civilly responsible way, paying tribute to God, my family, and my country.
The civil society needs days of remembrance; for without them, we risk losing our touch with the community – not just of space, but of time.