What am I to do?11:45 AM
These past two weeks my family visited many monuments and memorials of America's glorious and somewhat tragic past.
Moving through the Holocaust Memorial Museum, little unexpected things would trigger a stream of tears down my face, even though I'd grown hardened and dull to the horrific images of torture and suffering endured by the Jews. The building is brick, intentionally industrial and barren inside. Lots of dark granite, gray concrete, gray steel, gray walls, gray everything.
The black and white colorlessness of the photograph makes them almost unreal.
The horrific, skeletal nakedness of emaciated humanity all around you: in the videos, on the walls, depicted in dioramas. So surreal, so...unacceptable.
Harder still to bear are the testimonies of those who survived the concentration camps, describing the total destruction of their identity, dignity, individuality and humanity. To hear how they lost the will to feel, to love, to be human.
And in my heart grew a restlessness. A clamoring question: What am I to do? This is the past. history. done. gone. over with. The pain that those innocent millions endured was silenced forever by their bitter and untimely deaths. What does all this tragedy have to do with me?
My question was answered in reading the words someone had written on the comments page at the end of the exhibit tour.
"I swear to do the only thing that I can do: I will remember your pain always. לזכור"
It's true, I thought. When something has happened of terrible consequence in history, all that's left for us to do is to remember.
I felt a strange helplessness, thereafter. Like I was frustrated that I didn't even have the emotional capacity to mourn every tragic death and atrocity suffered during the Holocaust. I was angry with myself that I couldn't truly know their suffering.
Seeing the extensive grounds of the Arlington cemetery affected me similarly. So much DEATH! So much sacrifice!
Would I pay my debt by reading every single headstone, and pondering every soldier's past life? Would I pay my debt by standing in the sweltering heat day after day like the guard for the tomb of the unknown soldier?
What am I to do?
I must remember. Always. The blood, the sweat, and the tears that bought me the freedom that I so often think I'm entitled to ought to have an enduring place in my heart.
This is what I do for my country: I remember.