Death and memory
“More Than a Memory” (Editorial, March 14) reflects deep thoughts about life and death and the implications of the memory of your father [former MWR editor Robert M. Schrag, who died Jan. 26]. When my father died five years ago, I did a lot of thinking, too. When a person dies, what happens to all the knowledge, the personality, the laughter? Where does it go? In my dad’s case, he loved math and physics, music, basketball, photography. What happens to a lifetime of learning? All for nothing? The space-time continuum is bigger than my understanding.
When I have given historical talks or bus tours, I often begin with a question: “Who here has ever heard something like this or even said it yourself: ‘When I was young, I never paid attention to family history. Oh, but now, I’m middle-aged or older, and I’d like to pass this on to my children. But I can’t, because grandma and grandpa are dead; mom and dad are dead, and all that history is lost. I wish I had paid more attention when I was younger.’ How many of you have said that?” Nearly every hand goes up.
Keith Sprunger, reporting on his research for Bethel College’s 125th anniversary book, said he tried to interview all of Bethel’s living past presidents, but two of them died before he could get to them. He said something that is burned into my memory: “When doing oral history, today is better than tomorrow, and yesterday is better than today.”
Then there’s the story of Jan Scruggs, the soldier who was the primary promoter of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. He insisted that the name of everyone who died was inscribed on the wall because “a name is the most sacred thing about a person.” When a person’s name is remembered, or mentioned, they still exist, at least in our memory or knowledge. When that name or memory is lost, it is like they never existed.
Brian D. Stucky
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