Somewhere along the way, between the time it was officially recognized as a day to honor the nation’s war dead and the time it became an obscenely commercialized and busy holiday weekend, Memorial Day was a time to honor the memory of all who passed before us, civilian and military, and who gave our lives meaning. It was an important day
not only for families who suffered losses in American wars, but for all families. My first memories of this holiday go back to a small New England town and two striking images — men in uniform weeping at the sound of taps, and men and women in “Sunday clothes” decorating graves of our immigrant
ancestors. Memorial Day is the most personal of public holidays.
In searching for reflections on this aspect of the holiday, I recalled a poem by another New Englander, Walter Hard of Vermont, and asked a friend to fetch it off his bookshelf. It is titled, “On Memorial Day,” and I was surprised to discover that, in it, Hard makes no mention of combat or valor. Instead, it is a starkly personal meditation about a man visiting a graveyard by a brook, finding himself surrounded by the dead, but feeling their living presence.
And so it was with all the people there
Whose names were carved on the stones:
They were each one a part of the living present.
To the living, who would come to that spot
On this special day of remembrance,
Had come something which lived on
From generation to generation.
Something passed on to be woven into the warp and woof
Of new and ever-changing times.
Things worthy and things unworthy;
Things that helped and things that hindered;
Talents hidden in a napkin of obscurity
Which chance unfolded in another generation.
There he stood in the midst of a world that had been
But which was part of the living present
As it would be of the days yet to come.
Here indeed was life immortal.