My mind goes back to the days of my childhood when my father called Memorial Day “Decoration Day,” as it was commonly known to past generations of Americans. It was a day for decorating the graves of our departed family members. Rising early in the morning, we would go to the garden and pick the flowering blossoms of the snowball tree, peonies, day lilies, rhododendron, or azaleas– anything that happened to be blooming at the moment, colorful and fragrant. Dad was particularly fond of iris, which he always called, “flags.” Depending upon the weather patterns of spring in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, we might have an abundant or meager floral supply—but there was always something. These cut flowers were carefully arranged in mason jars and taken to the cemetery where they were lovingly placed on the graves of those departed loved ones whose memory my parents cherished. There, our “flags” took their place amongst the American flags commemorating departed veterans.
I must admit, I failed to recognize the significance of this ritual and tradition at the time. Most of those being remembered pre-dated my memory, and I felt no personal connection to a person I’d never known. The noise of the nearby boat races on the Willamette River sounded much more exciting than the dead silence of a graveyard to my way of thinking. Over time however, I discovered my parent’s traditional genes also flow through my blood. These days I consider it a privilege, if not a responsibility, to follow their ancient rituals in remembering loved ones from the past on Memorial Day.
It is ironic isn’t it, that we sometimes must be faced with death to consider the importance of life. Jesus calls us to come to him, to pause and find rest for our weary souls (see Matthew 11:28-29). In the Sermon on the Mount, he encouraged us to “consider the lilies of the field” and recognize that worry and a hectic pace adds little of substance to our lives. In so doing, we may reflect and consider what God has done for us, and in so doing discover how we should then live. In essence it represents a call to pause and consider the meaning of life. Our life.
What will others remember about us on some distant Memorial Day? As human beings, we are prone to action more than reflection. We are human beings, not human doings, yet we seem to love doing much more than being. That is why it is good to occasionally pause and reflect—to examine ourselves. But this requires us to slow down, to wait, to think, to meditate, things we often avoid.
Growing up on a farm, I particularly enjoyed tasks that involved driving the tractor. It is a job that does not require great amounts of concentration, and provides you time to reflect. One thing I learned is that you can observe things at the speed of 7 miles per hour that you miss at the speed of 70 miles per hour. You notice the little things that have fallen by the wayside, and have time to think and reflect. Things like the vibrant beauty of flowers contrasted with flags and gravestones. One representing the glory of life in the present, the other significant for remembering the blessings of heritage and freedom. Both are important for a balanced life. How might you add a moment or two of reflection to your busy Memorial Day weekend?