We’re at the start of a 3-day weekend, Deac families. The university will be closed on Monday in observance of Memorial Day.
For so many years while I was growing up and in college, Memorial Day seemed like a very abstract concept. It was about the military and those who had died in service to our country. But I was not from a military family and didn’t have other friends who were, so it did not hit home.
During the fall of my junior year at Wake Forest, my roommate/best friend and I went abroad to Dijon, France. One of our excursions with our faculty member was going to Normandy and to the D-day beaches. And as soon as my classmates and I stepped onto that hallowed ground, the meaning of Memorial Day, and sacrifice, and loss, became painfully obvious.
It is a beautiful, beautiful memorial. Overlooking the water, with perfect rows of seemingly endless graves of American soldiers. We walked through and read some of the tombstones and could see these soldiers were our age. That hit home.
This was one of the most painful but important learning moments of my time at Wake Forest. I don’t know what will be your students’ transformative moments while at Wake, but surely they will have some that will change them profoundly and completely.
They had leaflets at the memorial site – and one of them was this prayer below in French. My French is rusty and I won’t try to translate it here lest I get it wrong. But it is a really beautiful and lyrical prayer about the past, present, and future.
In the first stanza, the writer asks God to tell us how to hold in our hands the sand of our lives. The second stanza is a prayer to be taught how to hold on to the past the right way. The third stanza asks to know how to hold on to the present without being absorbed by it. The fourth stanza is a prayer to be taught about how not to dread the future. The final stanza says [roughly] “God of the past, the present, and the future, help us every day to discover you.”
I’ve carried this in my wallet since the fall of 1990.
For the memory of the soldiers in Normandy who helped me learn about Memorial day, as well as all the others who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we honor you this weekend.