We need a way to remember - Daniel Siliman

I was 4. There was a fight. He was 8 and didn't want to let me walk past his house, so we fought in middle of the dusty, country road -- and then I ran away.

I remember running though a bunch of pines -- branches whipping my face, and twigs popping under my feet and the sound of my heavy breathing filling the little forest with fear.

That's my first memory. Sometimes, I guess, when I remember losing the fight, I think it says something significant about me. Mostly, though, I just think it's one of my stories.

But whether I think it's the defining story of my life or just a story about me, I always remember it the same way, starting with 4-year-old me tramping happily down the road, and ending as I run away.

I think I remember this so well because I have a way to remember it. I have a mental method and a little repeated story. I have something to do, when I remember. I can point to the story and the way I repeat the story, and I can say, "This is how I remember."

When exactly does the Memorial Day angst arrive? When does the feeling of anguish ooze to the surface of the long holiday? Is it in the rush to the weekend, leaving work early on Friday, when I ask, "Do I really remember?" Is it while buying meat to grill and packing ice around sodas, when I ask, "What does it even mean to remember?"

Is it in the circling of a vast parking lot, seeing all the spaces filled, that I wonder if this is our great memorial to the sacrifices of soldiers?

Maybe it's on Tuesday, when everything's over and almost forgotten, when the rotten feeling of forgetting floods over me.

To people outside of religion, sociologists and anthropologists and others who study how humans beings behave, the acts of any religion are remembering rituals.

In Catholicism, the priest raises the cup of wine and the bread and he says, "Let us remember that Jesus is here and will return." Baptists gather their children together every summer to teach them memorable songs and very simple bible verses, saying, "Remember God loves you so much he came down to earth." The Jews eat bitter herbs, each year, and a child asks why. An elder says, "So we remember how we were once slaves." In Islam, people pray five times a day, facing a certain way, remembering how Muhammad received a revelation.

A religion isn't even considered a religion unless it does this -- unless it gives people a way to remember. Any community of the faithful, to be a community of the faithful, will come together assenting to two things: First, that there are certain things they believe, and, second, that there is a common way to act that out -- perform the faith, remember the great act of redemption through repetition.

Communities do this, too. Families do this, remembering important things through stories and annual events, marking the important things that define us, that make us who we are.

And nations, too.

Nations need ways to memorialize, ways to pick out important themes in their histories, tenants in their beliefs and traits in their character. They need to remember to survive, and they need a way where every member can do something to mark the memorial.

Whoever we say we are, we have to have a way to remember, when we remember who we are.

Every Memorial Day, I have this angst again, as if it were the tradition. I find I buy flags I don't need, sing songs I don't remember, troll the TV and the Internet to read names I don't know, and always, sometime in the late afternoon, I think I should just jump in the car, drive to the border and find some fireworks to explode.

I know I'm supposed to remember, but remember how?

Daniel Silliman covers crime for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at dsilliman@news-daily.com.