A Vincentian View: “Remembering”
“God gave us memories so that we could have roses in December.” (J. M. Barrie)
That line still sticks in my mind from high school because it flows out of my sentimental heart. It reminds me of the importance of memories and their place in our lives. Sometimes, however, roses are not what are brought to mind.
Over these past few days, I have had several experiences which make me think of the importance of memory. Let me share two of them.
On Sunday the 5th, I was invited to represent the Christian community and St. John’s University at the Kristallnacht Commemoration at Queens College. I wrote about this experience last year. Kristallnacht, you will recall, refers to the night of November 9th, 1938 when a large coordinated attack was launched against the Jewish community throughout the German Reich. It has come to be called the “Night of Broken Glass” as it references the Nazi shattering of windows throughout Germany and Austria. Estimates indicate that throughout the night 7,000 businesses were destroyed, 900 synagogues were set afire, 91 Jews were killed, and thirty thousand men and women were sent to concentration camps. The horrors of the coming years were clearly in evidence.
When the Jewish community gathers for such celebrations, the importance of memory stands forth. They describe the event of that night and they invite “survivors” to tell their stories. It is a powerful and purposeful use of memory. I sat at the service/lecture with a Muslim Imam at one shoulder and a Jewish Rabbi at the other. I wondered if I was the only Christian at the gathering and the Imam was the only Muslim. I wondered how much other faith-based communities were summoning to mind the events of that horrible period.
On the next day, Monday the 8th, I was at the Veterans’ Day celebration at our St. John’s. Once again, memories were invoked and I remembered that courage, generosity, and self-giving have a place in the American mind and heart—though perhaps not as dominant place as merited. The sacrifice of men and women for something greater than themselves and the opportunity to offer some words of thanks were a blessing of the day. Some memories continue to be held precious.
A telling occurrence at that gathering was at the end when a photo was being taken of all the veterans in the room—more than 50. An elderly woman came up to the microphone with her husband and asked that all the World War II veterans raise their hands. He was the only one.
Both of these events just prior to the end of our election cycle reminded me of several things. First of all, my responsibility to vote. The freedom for which so many people longed for as well as that for which so many people fought and died receives a powerful expression in our voting process. Secondly, the issues which have been so important in our times of human struggle need to be kept dominant as we listen and choose—lest we forget. And thirdly, casting my vote reminds me of my responsibility for the decision and direction which I choose for my country. I cannot stand outside the fray and say that it was not my problem. (Elie Wiesel calls indifference “the epitome of evil.”) The votes have been counted. We have chosen. We pray that our choices will provide roses for next December.