Monday, May 30, 2005

We Owe Them More Than Music and Muffled Drums

Exodus 12:14 (New Living Translation)

14 “You must remember this day forever. Each year you will celebrate it as a special festival to the LORD.”

Holy Writ encourages us to remember. The word, in its various forms (remember, remembrance, etc.) is mentioned almost three hundred times in scripture. By way of comparison, the word forget in its various forms (forget, forgetting, etc) is mentioned less than a hundred.

It’s Memorial Day; a day Americans set aside not only to enjoy the blessings of liberty, but also to honor those who have fallen so that we might enjoy those blessings.

This wonderful tradition of remembrance goes back nearly a century and a half now:

“While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.”

This day of remembrance was codified by General John Logan when he issued “General Orders No. 11 on May 5, 1868” The preamble to that document follows. If you want to research further, use the link in the first sentence of this paragraph:

“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

It’s been an American tradition since.

At a time when America’s sons and daughters are, in the great tradition of service passed down through the generations, serving freedom’s cause, I believe it’s important that we take the time to reflect upon their service and sacrifice.

To that end, I’m posting a poem written by Walt Whitman, honoring a father and son who had fallen in the Civil War. Whitman saw that we need to give those who have served not only the bugles and drums of mourning, but that we must also give them our love.

The best way we can do that, I believe, is to carry on the noble and necessary work they advanced even in falling:

Dirge for Two Veterans
Walt Whitman

"The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish’d Sabbath,
On the pavement here and there beyond, it is looking,
Down on a new-made double grave.

Lo! the moon ascending,
Up from the east, the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the house tops, ghastly, phantom moon,
Immense and silent moon.

I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key’d bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they’re flooding,
As with voices and with tears.

I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring,
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
Strikes me through and through.

For the son is brought with the father,
(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,
Two veterans son and father dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.)

Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive,
And the daylight o’er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.

In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin’d,
(‘Tis some mother large transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)

O strong dead-march you please me!
O moon immense, with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my solders twain! O my veterans passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.

The moon give you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love."

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