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As Memorial Day Approaches, I Remember Everything

A reminder of all that's gone before.

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Illustration of woman watching planes in the sky creating an American flag with their jet stream
Ryan Johnson
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On Memorial Day weekend, when we remember fallen heroes, we remember so many other things — as this holiday reminds us that another year has passed and a sweet summer beckons.

We remember our own fallen loved ones, fallen youth, our children that were silky-faced toddlers seemingly weeks ago, but now who are living with their own partners and have jobs in different states. We remember that when we stand in their empty bedrooms, amid their sports trophies and photos from prom. We feel our whole lives shoot through us, the decades gone in a finger snap. We remember these once noisy rooms that are now silent, and it often make us cry.

We remember being young ourselves and the exuberance we felt on Memorial Day — that school was almost over, we could trade in trousers for shorts, and everyone seemed happier, looser, kinder. We remember running through sprinklers in our backyards as our parents grilled hot dogs and greasy hamburgers and no one knew the word “cholesterol.”

On this day for honoring veterans, I remember the darkness of living through so many wars, as well as explaining to my four sons why bloodshed is the price in the fight for peace. I remember I could never answer their questions of “why?”

I remember my teenage angst and that two of my friends went to the Woodstock Music Festival that took place in August of 1969. They came back radiant and fired us all up. I remember our parents were very worried about us, as our motto became: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

I remember a rally at my high school to get our troops home from Vietnam and singing the Animals’ hit song “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” It had become an anti-war anthem with both troops and protesters. I remember the fervor of the 1970s, when the hippies shook up cultural mores with a sexual revolution, a feminist uprising and all sorts of other crazy, transformational stuff.

I remember, decades later, learning about another side of that war, when Jan Scruggs spoke to my college students at the Vietnam Memorial — which he conceived and got built — a structure where some 60,000 names of his deceased comrades are engraved.

I remember Scruggs choking up in tears as he told his story of a wounded 19-year-old who recited the Lord’s Prayer, ready to die, but who then was saved by his fellow soldiers. This ignited his mission to immortalize the souls of those who were not so lucky.

I remember being in college myself, far away from the battlefields, wearing a halter top and a long Indian print skirt at an outdoor Fleetwood Mac concert in Palo Alto, California, in 1975. I remember feeling strong and right as we swayed to Stevie Nicks song “Landslide” that hot afternoon a lifetime ago.

I remember last May, feeling weak and helpless as a pandemic raged and as bigotry was rising. And I, too, like Jan Scruggs, turned my face upward to the Lord. Then I remember that this year will bring the light of hope, as the seasons shift to warmth and change.

I remember that hope and faith, now and throughout time, have always been the ticket for survival. I remember hearing my father use the phrase “the good old days” — when Coke was a nickel and before President Kennedy was assassinated — but he’d also say it is a fantasy to believe there were ever days that were all good. I remember that this beloved dad of mine — who lived through the Depression and married a Holocaust survivor — would remind his three kids that all of history has been both good and bad, and that life goes on because good people keep pushing for better.

I remember on this Memorial Day that so many families are grieving for loved ones no longer here. I remember that in this world that can be very good and very bad, we must show our love deeply to the people we love most — while we have them within reach.

We imagine that each Memorial Day picnic the same family members and friends will take their seats. I remember that, inevitably, danger dances around all of us. We cannot count on an aging parent or a middle-aged spouse to show up next year.

I remember we must love deeply, in this moment, on this day — as this is all we ever really have. I remember my marriage that has lasted half my life and bore a tribe of four boys, who are gifts that must be savored in the here and now.

I remember that my peonies are blooming, perfect puffs of pink. And with two COVID shots in my arm, I feel grateful and strong and brave.

I remember to say, “I love you so much” each time I say goodbye to a loved one.

Iris Krasnow is the senior editor of The Ethel and the author of seven books on relationships (found on iriskrasnow.com). A journalism professor emerita at American University, she’s had her work featured in many national magazines, including The New Yorker, Time, O The Magazine and AARP The Magazine. Iris has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the Today show, Good Morning America and All Things Considered. She lives in Maryland with her architect husband, and they are parents to four grown sons.

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