There’s an ancient tree behind my grandparents’ farm house in Virginia. Well, it’s half of a tree really. The core is bared to the elements, a scar. New growth, over the years, has unfurled in tender tentacles topped with lime-green baby leaves. It’s been seventeen years since the fire that ravaged the original pre-Revolutionary farm house; a fire that also consumed many of the trees immediately surrounding the property. Everything burned to the ground – except for half of this tree.
My grandfather, a plant pathologist and nature sentimentalist, chose to preserve the charred stump against other advice, believing that love and faithful tending would help it blossom again. He was right. The tree still lives and grows ever fuller on the side that didn’t face the heat of the flames. Its leaves shade the reconstructed porch in the summer, and its broken side is all the more beautiful for what it represents. The tree is a memorial. A symbol of pain my family suffered when the homeplace burned down, but also of hope that, over time, rebirth is possible.
I’m thankful that life does move forward in all things. After sacrifice and tragedy. Even after happy events. Scars are there, but the new growth comes back, too. Memorials help us remember these significant bits of history by pausing the fast pace of time. They help by slowing down the inevitable and giving us a welcome and obligatory claim to rest. Rest in the memory. And rest in the healing. A thanksgiving.
When I think about my life, I find that it’s full of little memorials. My wedding rings, my college diploma, playbills of high school musicals, swimming ribbons, old license plates in the garage, stretch marks. That old tree in the yard. Chicken pox scars. A tear-stained letter from my college days when Kyle and I were dating. I used to think about this when I was nursing my babies, too. Every three hours there came a time to pause and rest with them. I was bound by their need of me, and everything about them, even down to their toes, made me think of the nine months and laboring hours that brought them into the world.
Each of these little memorials represents a sacrifice, an honor, a striving, and some pain. But they are all important in the making of me, and I never want to forget. They help me put into perspective the need for and pride behind a collective Memorial Day. A day entirely dedicated to remembering the ultimate sacrifices of heroes who’ve gone before us, now in this time. All important in the making of our country, and we never want to forget.
We didn’t do much this Memorial Day, mostly because our children are still very young and I’m within a week of my due date and was kept up all Sunday night by contractions. But, we did walk on a nature trail at a national park by our house, attend a cook-out with some good friends, and point out the significance of the American flags decorating this summer day to our girls. We strolled along the shoreline and reflected on the beginnings of Memorial Day as an informal day of decoration following the Civil War when small groups of civilians graced the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers. I know why they did it and it’s why we still do it. Those memorials represent a belief in a better way, an honor, a striving, and pain. Brokenness where rebirth is possible. A rest in the healing. A thanksgiving.
Something we never want to forget.
Shannon is a Navy wife of six years, mama to two daughters three-and-under with a third baby girl on the way, blogger, and has her Master’s degree in Community Counseling. She’s a lover of simple things like farmer’s markets, barefeet, and bluegrass music. When she’s not tickling sweet toes or chasing toddlers, you can find her reading a good book and sipping sweet tea. For more, follow her at: www.thisfoxtaillily.com
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