Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013
When We ForgetPosted Monday, May 31, 2010, at 12:28 PM
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
and pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
("Grass" by Carl Sandburg)
In 21st century America, there is a popular, politically correct euphemism generally employed upon the occasion of any traditional ceremonial procession and/or traumatic, sacrificial loss: "...never to be forgotten".
A young soldier falls on a foreign field of battle and we tell each other his loss will never be forgotten.
To the ends of the earth and in every sea innumerable graves proclaim "unknown", and our society declares these never to be forgotten.
It is simply not true. We will not remember. We will, collectively and individually, forget.
The sun will rise and the sun will set; days, months, years, and generations will come and go. The last "last man" passes. What was at one moment so vital begins to envelop itself with the tall, tangled grass of time; the once vital moment's import soon swallowed by the weeds of life-goes-on. Those who heard about it every day for a week on the news -- being personally untouched -- won't recall the exact year such-and-such happened or when "what-was-his-name?" perished.
Ultimately, with memory incontinence or indolence, we will condemn ourselves or our posterity to immeasurable but avoidable traditional ceremonial procession and/or traumatic, sacrificial loss. Demonstrating through repetition for yet another generation that who and what was never to be forgotten we have forgotten.
Because we forget it helps to set aside a day once a year devoted to remembering. A day for cutting through grass and pulling weeds; a day just for reminding ourselves what we are, how we got here, and who we had to leave behind to come this far. When we forget, and we will, it helps to have a Memorial Day. Without such a day we will forget individually and collectively, what is never to be forgotten.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.