Happy Memorial Day. Does anyone ever say this? It feels too somber to include the glib word “Happy”, but instead, maybe we could reach for gratitude on this day. The tradition is to remember all of the folks who died in military service, perhaps with their high ideals of creating or protecting safety for all of us. While I can’t say exactly how I feel about the US military, I certainly feel grateful that someone’s intention is to provide safety for me. Thanks!
We could also pause to remember that we are only here, in relative luxury, because of the actions of countless beings who came before us. Your parents, for example, created you. You may not like your folks but they deserve your gratitude. Your mother carried you in her body and birthed you. Either she, or someone else, protected you, supported your survival, and got you through childhood.
Countless other people provided you an education. Maybe you also had piano lessons or scouts or after-school sports programs. Can you remember some of the adults who provided or volunteered their precious time to coach you or choreograph your dance piece or clean up the playground?
We rarely see these holy people as holy while we’re still children. Now that we’re grown, let’s take a moment for gratitude. Thanks, Mrs. Arnell, Robert and Carol the ballet teachers, Mr. Dussek for piano, Connie for flute, Mr. Bratt in 6th grade, Ms. Barton for English, and so many others. Thank you for spending your time to lead me to art and intellectual curiosity.
We could also take time to remember the lineages of traditions that feed us. I love yoga, and really enjoy recognizing all of my teachers over the years. The path of yoga began as an oral transmission of teachings – how many folks can I thank for staying steadfast to their practices? So many cultures are lost, all of their stories and philosophies. What good fortune that yoga has been carried from mouth to ear, to hamstrings and biceps, hearts and souls, so we can partake right now, today!
Remembering is also given as a remedy for Avidya (one of the kleśas or pains we humans all suffer). Avidya is often translated as ignorance or delusion, but I prefer to call this “not knowing” simply forgetting.
This is the forgetting of our inherent perfection. When we remember that we’re already whole, intact beings, we can get a break from the unrelenting voices that tell us otherwise. When we’re less preoccupied with fixing ourselves, we can find time to revel in our good fortune.
How did we get so lucky? Most of our needs are already met, most of the time. This didn’t just happen, it’s all due to our ancestors and all they endured on our behalf. Most likely, your people, like mine, were immigrants. What hardships did they face? How did they smooth the path you now tread? Depending on how many generations your folks have been here, your ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and so many other factors, you still endure difficulties. Yet, in comparison with most of the earth’s inhabitants, those of us who live in first world countries enjoy a high standard of living. Like princess and dukes, we did not earn this ourselves.
If we all behave like careless trust-funders, forgetting that someone else earned our relatively luxurious lives, we might squander our precious human existence, undervaluing its true worth, passively assuming that continuous fortunate lives await us. Some paths teach that life on earth is drudgery or even a punishment – only heaven or nirvana will bring relief.
When we practice remembering, we can appreciate our place at the front of an unending line of people who were here before we were. Recognizing our place here is to understand that our current actions and habits will effect those who come after us. Can we strive to think forward, past ourselves, to future generations, that we might deserve thanks for our generosity, our kindness, the ways we were helpful?
Take time now, to remember some of the ways you’ve encouraged and uplifted your friends, family, students, clients and even strangers. Yes, you. This kind of remembering can be like precious gold, reminding yourself that you have been helpful. Your actions and words, even your thoughts matter. Maybe you can recognize yourself as part of the unending lineup, supporting the people who will walk an easier track because of you.