Remembering the Past, Celebrating the Future

A Box Of Photos

Lt. General Mark Hertling was on CNN remembering his fallen fellow soldiers by making a box and putting the pictures of his lost friends in it. Over this memorial day weekend he will be spending an hour a day looking at these pictures and giving each man and woman some time of remembrance. This is just one example of countless efforts across the country to remember the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our country.

Graves and Cook-Outs

These rituals at first glance might seem to be incongruous with the many barbecue cookouts that also take place on this weekend. How for example can we honor the dead while laughing and eating and cooking out with the living? To be sure, some Memorial days in the past have been very somber remembrances of loved ones who are no longer with us. I always count us as lucky when these Memorial days are more about cook-outs than about graves.

Linking The Past to the Present

But I see the graves and the barbeque as part of one big picture during memorial day that both remembers the past and celebrates the here and now. The connection of remembering those who are gone with those that are still here seems to be the ultimate statement of why we fight wars to protect our freedom. For it is one of the main goals of a military force to protect the civilian population. And one of the most important lessons is when to use this force and when to employ diplomacy. A more important balance is hard to find.

Flags, Food and Family

And in the back of my mind and maybe in the back of other minds is the feeling that this day is special for the relationship of those who protect us and those who are protected. And especially those that need our protection now. Those that are not so fortunate to live in peace today need our help so that we can all enjoy this day filled with flags and food and family. I am always thankful for those who serve including my father and my sister, both of whom were lucky enough to come home from their wars. My Uncle Phil did not survive his war in Korea. And I am also thinking of those who need to share in our freedoms, those who are living in our country and are not getting the justice they deserve. I always think of the poor and down-trodden, the weakest among us, those that cannot raise a voice in defense of their liberties. They need our flags too, they need our food and they need our family.


This morning I will be going outside of my house to cut the lilacs, laying them carefully in a basket to take to the cemetery. Our kids and our guests for the weekend will pile into the cars as they all know and look forward to this ritual. In our family this tradition of taking the lilacs to the graves is probably 100 years old. I will share my memories of the buried while the kids place the lilacs on the graves, cell phones clicking. I try to remember the stories about the positive contributions the departed made to our world and I try to time the amount of information conveyed to match the interest expressed by the children. I also take my cues from my wife, who holds the basket while the kids take the lilacs from it. It is these memories, the remembrance of things past that can inform the living—both a lesson and an honoring. I wish for our country the best possible future created out of an honoring of the past, a celebration of today, and the hope for a better tomorrow.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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