Remember the dead
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead,” the English writer G.K. Chesterton wrote in his 1908 book “Orthodoxy.” “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
We who are walking about do have the responsibility to make decisions that carry great consequences for all life on earth, now and to come. But Chesterton reminds us that it is wise to look back for advice from those who have gone before us — the “cloud of witnesses” described by St. Paul.
Monday, Memorial Day, is our day of the dead in the United States of America. As Latin American Popele do on their Dia de Muertos, please make sure to keep in mind those who have died, even as you enjoy the company of family and friends this long weekend.
On this holiday, we remember especially the military dead.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was started specifically to commemorate soldiers who died in the Civil War. Americans slaughtered hundreds of thousands of each other between 1861 and 1865. This is the appointed time of year to turn our minds to that horror and to resolve that we will never let it happen again.
But Memorial Day isn’t just about the Civil War. It was extended long ago, calling us to remember all those who have ever died while serving in the U.S. armed forces.
From 1775 to present more than 1.35 million American military members have died in war, with almost half of those being in combat. That’s not counting civilian deaths and military members who died outside of war.
While you’re thinking of all those people, there’s nothing wrong with also remembering others who have died. Those might be individuals who mean something to you, or they might be a large number of people you don’t know whose deaths are related to something that resonates with you. It would be timely to consider the roughly 95,000 Americans (330,000 worldwide) who have died of COVID-19 so far this year, or the 675,000 Americans (more than 50 million worldwide) who died of the 1918 flu.
We Saranac Lakers might also remind people that still, even after all we humans have done to control it, tuberculosis kills roughly 1.5 million people EVERY YEAR — more than all Americans who have ever died in all wars combined. TB, which this village was established to cure, was accurately called “the deadliest killer in human history” by the 2015 PBS documentary “The Forgotten Plague.”
So many have fallen. Let’s remember both the joy of their lives and the pain of their deaths. Let’s tell their stories. Let’s also work and pray for our nation to be wise, good and brave going forward, to shun war in the future — or, if it is absolutely unavoidable, to fight honestly and justly with all the best character inside us.
Of course people have strong feelings and opinions about something as critical as war, but Memorial Day is a time to set those aside, come together and simply remember.