Pagans like to say, "What is remembered, lives." Memory is re-membering, the act of giving life to the past through rituals of witness.
We draw a line around what is sacred, to set it apart as special. We imagine the planet as a precious blue marble floating in space, so small and far away we cannot see the delicate contours of our own faces turned upwards towards the night sky, doing the imagining. We worship the lands that give us life, the earth that sustains us with its salty waters and wild winds, its mud and grit. We encircle the world in the darkness of outer space, and it shimmers all the brighter. But when we're not paying attention, the lines we draw around the sacred can cut us right through the middle.
When it comes to questions of how to respond to the cultural demand to "honor the soldiers who died for you," I find that the problem is not so much that I do not want to comply, but that I literally do not know how. Assuming, of course, that our honor and memory should take a form other than silent complicity in the continuing violence and militarism of our government — what should my honor look like?
"It's funny how family can bring you back to yourself because they know you so well and for so long, they treat you as if you were always just the same. Which is exactly what can drive you out of yourself, too, after a while. Because of course, you're not."
Imagine how we are woven bodily into this world, pulsing veins and sinew wrapped tightly around bone. Blood and marrow so intimate in the secret recesses of our structure. This is what connects you to them. Your whole life presses forward. Like a single thread pulled taut until it aches, the spun-spiraled blood and body of your life pulls away from the past, yet anchored there by the fact of your birth, the stubborn persistence of your being. They had that too, and now here you are. What strange and unwieldy imperfections make up the beauty of your body, the lumpy joints and stringy tissue. And the tension in you, it is theirs as well.
In my latest post over at Pagan+Politics, I explore the real origins and context of the quote, "Only the dead have seen the end of war" (commonly but falsely attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato), and grapple with some of the deeper ironies surrounding the celebration of Memorial Day: "I know little about death and what our ancestors, the beloved dead, would say or do if they were alive today. I find it hard to believe that Plato would be anything less than horrified by the mechanisms of global warfare and violence that we have invented in the last century; I imagine that he, like Santayana and so many other philosophers of our time, would struggle to reconcile such sweeping violence with a belief that there is reason and structure within the chaos... Read more...