Memorials say as much about the persons observing them, as they do about anyone else. What kind of parents pack up the family and travel to a distant cemetery with a handful of flowers specially bought and paid for, and some clippers to trim the weeds and grass on Decoration Day? What kind of country builds costly granite structures in the nation’s capital, and continually invests huge sums to maintain and keep them looking pristine, year after year? Or, what kind of university erects a new dormitory, maybe adorning it with a bronze plaque engraved with the name of some long-deceased saint, who lovingly sacrificed and spent his life for that university many years ago?
We memorialize because we respect. We show honor and appreciation because we want the memories of honorable people to endure and to influence others. We want others to imitate them, and the ideals for which they stood, because we recognize these ideals as healthy and important.
And it’s not because these people we honor were perfect in every other way. I must say, I am saddened at and very much opposed to the destruction of statues and other memorials to our predecessors because someone has made the startling discovery that these people were not perfect. If perfection is the criteria, it’s going to eliminate memorials across the board, to all but One. But that One taught the importance of memorializing even imperfect people: Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her, (Mt. 26:13). It seems that our Lord recognized the importance of paying respect to people because of their good works, even if they were imperfect people, (cf. 1 Jn. 1:8, 10; Rom. 13:7).
Pardon me for being frank, but it’s easy for a person relatively new on the scene, who did not know the person being honored, or personally help pay for the memorial, or take the time to discover how they themselves have benefitted from the labors of those gone before—it’s easy for such a person to find fault. It’s easy to sit on the 50-yard line of a football game, in relative safety, and criticize the quarterback for throwing instead of running the ball. But if you had been there, in the heat of the battle, in the culture of that day, do you really think you would have risen half as high? By your lack of perception and respect, I would venture to say it’s not likely.
Memorials are the mark of a civilized society, because they recognize the vital importance of fostering great accomplishments into future generations. They “bridge the gap” between our past and our future. They hold up to our precious young people role models of the past, and inspiring examples who can bring out the best in all of us. A nation which does not honor the grand accomplishments of its past does not deserve an honorable future.
There is a mindset which delights in finding fault, and it concerns me. Every conversation, every perusal into the past, and virtually every post on Facebook is another opportunity to rant. It’s a chance to show the world how enlightened they are, and how wrong everyone else is. The tendency to be critical, negative, hateful is like a cancer—it grows and takes over a person’s life. It simply must be stopped before it devours us. As Paul put it, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another,” (Gal. 5:15). When all of the statues are torn down, what will be next, the grave stones? Memorial Day can be changed to Search and Destroy Day. Be careful about finding fault with your ancestors who are not here to defend themselves. Avoid the temptation to look down on people of another time because they viewed matters differently than you. As Sheriff Taylor said, “If I were to throw out everybody who acted a little strange now and then, I would wind up emptying the whole town. I might even have to reach around a get a good hold on the seat of my own breeches.” Memorializing the lives and achievements of others is a healthy practice. It is one of the marks of a civilized and enlightened society. It bodes well for the future, because it encourages others to admire and follow after the successes of those gone before. Showing respect for the good works and accomplishments of our predecessors is never out of style, but is very progressive. It takes humility, and a good dose of gratitude. Nurturing a thankful spirit is not easy, but it sure beats murmuring and fault-finding. Maybe it’s time we slow down, pause and ponder again the value of a good memorial.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.