OK, quiz time. Which of the following comes next when you hear “Remember, remember…”?
A) “… to turn your clocks back one hour to end Daylight Saving Time.”
B) “…what you came into the room to get five minutes ago.”
C) “…a time in September, when life was slow, and oh, so mellow.”
D) “… the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot.”
If you answered D, there are decent odds that you either have English relatives, or you’re a fan of the movie or comic “V For Vendetta” … or that you know how a columnist’s mind works on questions like this. (We’re a little predictable.) The chant, of course, is a traditional one for Guy Fawkes Day in England on Nov. 5, and a catchy one at that. Some of you may have even finished the next words: “I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”
Now comes the harder part. Why? Why remember?
Those who remember anything at all might recall that Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament. But the details of why, or who he was, or what century it happened in, or that the observance was once an occasion for virulent anti-Catholic fervor … that tends to be fuzzier for most people. Most of the time, what gets remembered is the admonition to “remember, remember” and not much else.
Which brings me to Veterans Day.
Each year on Nov. 11, we get our own call to remember. – specifically, to remember and thank the veterans of our armed services, especially those who have served during wartime. Cities offer parades. Restaurants offer meals. We hear their stories, shake their hands, maybe put out the flag for the day or the weekend.
But how often do we think about why? Do we think about why?
Or are we just remembering to remember?
I wonder. I really do.
It began as a remembrance of horror and a pledge of peace – the Armistice Day, when the relentless and pointless four-year slaughter of World War I finally came to an end.
In this country, it continued because of a Kansas man named Alvin King, a man who repaired shoes and felt that the sacrifices of the still-recent World War II veterans and those who came after them should be honored as well.
Two ideas. Two kinds of memory.
One, the memory of things past. Of a portion of life given at the country’s call. A recognition that some were willing to risk pain and fear and death and despair in order to serve a land they loved. Some came back to thanks and parades. Some returned quietly, as though knocking off work at the end of the day. Some, instead of welcome, drew recriminations.
It’s a story that most of us cannot truly know or share. One unique to those who have served. And so we remember.
But we also need a second memory. A memory that looks forward. A memory that remembers that the struggles are not always in the past, that our veterans are not just a story to be told and a hand to be shaken once a year. That we have an obligation to meet their needs, to heal their wounds, to help them as they once helped us.
And most of all, we need to remember the price. And the ancient commitment to our veterans, so often broken, to create no more of their number. To seek peace in a world of war.
It is an imposing memory. A demanding one, even. But essential.
And then make the memory real.
I know of no reason why this veterans’ season should ever be forgot.