Harriet Freiberger: Past, present, future
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Whatever was old can become part of something new. If we keep nothing, we have learned nothing. This day, dedicated to the memory of men and women who served in the military defense of the United States of America, calls for us to take stock of what we Americans have received from the past. Nothing changes what has been; everything changes what lies ahead.
Recognizing our past, existing in the world that is today, all who live today are becoming part of the tomorrow that lies ahead. Through it all, there are the soldiers who stand guard, serving under the auspices of the Constitution. The words of that document define a constancy that not only has survived but also, over the past 240 years, has strengthened in support of a way for humans to live together without conflict.
But why a national holiday that becomes for many only a reason for picnics and family fun? Why honor the places where the past is buried? We humans fight hard to live — our top priority satisfying a basic instinct that we share with all creatures. Death is the last thing most of us want to think about until the starkness of its usually abrupt crash into our lives forces recognition of what we do not want to see.
Memory distinguishes our humanity. Carefully tended cemeteries accomplish a way to keep what the past teaches us — or not. Stones and polished steel bear physical symbols, imprints of words and numbers. Uniquely human language provides a singular ability to step into the future with understanding of complexities that do not have to be rediscovered by each generation. Words offer a way to pass on the amazing accomplishments of those who have lived before.
Those of us who live in this 21st century have an opportunity like nothing humans — at least the ones we know of — have ever experienced. What is important about the past? Only what we keep from it. It can be like the old house no longer lived in, timbers left to rot, becoming an eye sore, at best a shelter for raccoons. At worst, no longer cared for by a family living within its sheltering walls, that which offered treasure becomes fuel for a fire, disappearing in smoke. Keeping nothing, we learn nothing.
A child reaches for what he or she does not know and in the process of growing up, either gets what he or she wants or wants what he or she does not get — a pat on the back, a slap on the face, a burn from a pot too hot to touch, a soothing hand on a tired back. The lessons become part of the person. Then, with each step out and away from the parent, there comes a leaving behind and, at the same time, a reaching forward. Within each family, what was old became part of what is new.
We keep what the past teaches us — or not.
We Americans are a family. For us, men and women have faced the inevitability of death. On this Memorial Day, we visit the cemeteries where our soldiers are buried. Here in Steamboat Springs, a walk on the gravel paths that cross through springtime’s tender green leads us through the history of our community. We can read the names of 301 men and women beneath the markers of red, white and blue, and perhaps even learn about what they have fought for.
Today, only a small percentage of us serve in the defense of our country, but we who share the gift of freedom are their family. We keep them with us in everything we share in this country that they protect. They are ours.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River valley since 1982.
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