In Memory

The ID bracelet my father wore during World War II

Some earlier posts on Memorial Day

May 2008

May 2010

Ways of Remembering

   One of the goals of my blog is to examine history, personal history and the bigger kind, to  see how it impacts our lives, art and creativity.   We tend to think of history as something that happens far  from us-maybe we catch some of the ripples-but we believe that unless we are very important people or happen to be at a particular place in time, we are never a part of history or a witness to history.  We remain unaware of the effect history has in shaping our personality and lives.

     I started to examine all of this when I began to delve into the story of my family and  interview war veterans about their experiences.  I knew when I spoke to them that I would never get the whole story.  How could I?    It’s terrible to remember such things much less give them new life by saying them out loud, and  to a person without a shared experience.  Few of us would dare make ourselves that vulnerable.

      But it was on this this journey that I began to understand how  much of my creativity, my need for a rich fantasy life and my personality comes from my childhood, which was shaped in large part by  my father’s personality. I knew he served in World War II, but not much more.  Then I came upon this quote from the last chapter of The Lord of the Rings.  J.R.R. Tolkien was a World War One veteran and  there is a controversy on whether The Lord of the Rings  was influenced by his war experiences.  This quote erased all my doubts and  clarified so much of my father’s personality for me.  This, in turn,  helped me to understand myself better.  

     “But,” said Sam,  and the tears started in his eyes, “I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.”

     “So I thought too, once.  But I have been deeply hurt, Sam.  I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger; some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them… [Keep] alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more.  And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on.”

Frodo speaking to Sam Gamgee, in The Grey Havens, last chapter of The return of the King,  the third book of the Lord of the Rings.

     I could see from living with my father that he was “deeply hurt,” and began to understand why.    I also began to understand how my personality, creative and otherwise, developed as a way to cope with his.   The whole process is, of course, much more complicated,  but this should be enough to give you an idea.

    On this Memorial Day Weekend 2008, take some time to examine how the experiences of your family members influenced your life and creativity.    The answers are not always obvious and you have to dig deep.   Do not be afraid to dig.  Prepare to be surprised.