Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Memorial Day

The view from our front stoop
I confess I normally don't think much about the meaning of Memorial Day, except that it signals the start of summer, but this year the Memorial Day weekend was kicked off by a patriotic program presented by the four kindergarten classes at our grandchildren's school. Who could resist that? 

Each class presented one of our national symbols: Mount Rushmore, the American bald eagle, the American flag, and the Statue of Liberty. Several students in each class recited a few lines about their symbol and then passed the microphone on to the next person. Each spoke their memorized lines so clearly and proudly, including our grandson Peter who told us about the Statue of Liberty's torch. I must admit, however, that my favorite fact was about the bald eagle. Did you know it has three eyelids? 

After the recitations, each class, many of the children dressed in red, white, and blue, sang one of our patriotic songs. I so remember  learning these songs in elementary school, but realized how infrequently there is a chance to sing them. Our grandson's class played the first verse of My Country 'Tis of Thee on the kazoo--a unique rendition to say the least- and then sang the second verse. 

At the end of the program all the classes sang It's A Grand Ole Flag. Some words may have been mumbled, and not every one was in the same key, but the enthusiasm of these young citizens, representing diverse backgrounds, races, and ethnicities won't be forgotten. The large loving crowd of parents, grandparents, and siblings cheered, and as we honored our children who expressed pride in our country's freedoms, we seemed to also reinforce our own core belief in liberty and justice for all. It was a good moment. 

And then summer began.   

The Meaning of Memorial Day: Reconciliation
The first Memorial Day was May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on graves of Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington Cemetery. Now we think of it as primarily a day of remembrance for all those who have died in service to our country, but I am struck by the original intention, which was reconciliation at the end of the Civil War. 

Simply stated, reconciliation means resuming a relationship, but where there has been hurt or even abuse, where trust has been broken, nothing about reconciliation is simple. In my work as a spiritual director many sessions with directees focus on the pain of broken relationships, including one's relationship with God. 

Forgiveness, it needs to be emphasized, is not the same as reconciliation. We each have the power to forgive, but none of us has the power to force reconciliation on someone who does not want it. Forgiveness may happen in an instant, although forgiveness just as often is an intention and a process. However, reconciliation happens over time as goals are set and trust is rebuilt. 

Reconciliation needs to be an agreed upon goal by both parties, and sometimes, in the case of abuse, reconciliation is not a good idea and may, in fact, be dangerous. 

With Memorial Day leading us into a new season, a season, which often includes a break or change in routines and an openness to adventure and new possibilities, perhaps this is a time to consider relationships where there is hope for reconciliation. If forgiveness has opened space in your heart for a new or renewed relationship, perhaps now is the time for a first step. If so, I commend these words to you by Marcia Ford in her excellent book, The Sacred Art of Forgiveness, Forgiving Ourselves and Others through God's Grace:

        Imagine the relationship you would like to have with
        someone you have forgiven but have yet to be reconciled
        with. Be realistic. Consider what your relationship was 
        before, the nature of the offense, and the level of trust 
        you hope to have in the future. If the offender was once
        your closest friend and confident, you may need to
        ratchet down your expectations considerably, settling
        for an occasional lunch date instead of the daily heart-
        to-heart conversations you had grown accustomed to. If
        the offender was a serious abuser, your best description of
        the relationship you would like to have may very well include
        the word "non-existent." Just be honest with yourself, and
        then you'll have a clear idea of what you need to work toward
        in order to rebuild the relationship. p. 103 

The purpose and hope of the first Memorial Day was a tall order, and some may say total reconciliation in our country has yet to be achieved, but that doesn't mean we as individuals can't work towards reconciliation in our own lives when it is desired and appropriate. 

An Invitation
Are there areas of your life where reconciliation would lead you towards wholeness? Are there people with whom you desire reconciliation and if so, have you done the work of forgiveness? What does reconciliation mean to you? I would love to know.        

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