Forget Me Nots
Today I was given the great honor of serving as a witness to a wedding. Today is also Memorial Day in the U.S., but we’ll get back to those facts in a few minutes. First, let’s talk about last week.
Last week, my grandmother died in her sleep, at the age of 94. She was a remarkable woman, who was loved by many and who will be sorely missed. Although she faced much turmoil and change in her own life, for me she was a constant. From my point of view, my grandmother was a reliable rock that was always there — always ready to pepper me with questions and freshly cooked food, in her kitchen.
She lived in a modest duplex apartment over by the lower end of Victoria Avenue, a wonderful, ever-changing, immigrant neighborhood in Montreal. Outside the steps of this duplex was a small garden where, when she was able to, my grandmother planted flowers. Her favorite flower was the blue Myosotis — Forget Me Nots — a perfect flower for her, in so many ways.
Each year my grandmother would get a little packet of Forget-Me-Not seeds as a part of the annual campaign of the Canadian Alzheimer’s Society, and she would proceed to sow them between the rocks of her little garden. I don’t know when she started with that annual ritual — she volunteered at a local community geriatric centre with many Alzheimer’s patients — but I remember quite fondly how when she discovered my penchant for gardening, I was instantly recruited to be her assistant in this all-important task.
CARE AND PROPAGATION
My grandmother had many great friends and many great stories. My grandmother also has many great-grandchildren.
In Bubby’s garden flowers grew
Instead of red, delicate blue
Her own version of Flanders Fields
Whose offspring bloomed prolific yields
Spreading still in gardens anew
My grandmother was a survivor of World War II, one of the last politically correct American wars… or at least, one of the last wars before the Baby Boomers, for better or worse, confused Americans about whether war could ever be correct thing to do. Looking back at World War II and the frequent (if inappropriate) comparisons that people make to it (cf. Godwin’s Law… as one person once put it, “people who make historical analogies are just like the Nazis” ), it would seem that WWII set the bar too high for us, in terms of moral clarity of conflict. Of course, hindsight is 20-20, and during the war some people weren’t sure whether Allied intervention was necessary or appropriate. Some of the victims in Europe even questioned whether they should try to survive. My grandmother once said to her husband, “I did nothing wrong. I don’t deserve to die,” and later during the war, “We have to survive, if only for the sake of our children.” In the end, my grandparents and their children were the beneficiaries of a belated Allied involvement in that dark period of the 20th Century. On this Memorial Day, when we Americans are not doing our shopping or watching the Indy 500, we honor the troops that fought in the Civil War and beyond. As for the 58 direct descendants of my grandmother, we especially honor those troops who put down the consensual insanity that swept through Europe, six decades ago.
My grandmother was a widow for the last 40 years of her life. She had many stories of her husband, stories of life in the old country, stories of how they survived the war and the many resourceful things she did in order to save herself, her family and other people… lots of great stories, and yet my grandmother didn’t just live in the past. In fact, she spent less time telling her stories and more time asking questions — she was always concerned with the present and future of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and most recently, her great-great-grandchildren.
Americans have a hard time giving Memorial Day the respect it deserves… is it because this culture is so positive and forward-looking? ..or is it simply because our spoiled, self-actualizing generation has a hard time appreciating what hurdles people like my grandmother had to overcome, just to survive? One of the things I learned from my grandmother is that it is possible to live in the past, present and future, simultaneously.
At a wedding, the past, present and future come together simultaneously. When four generations of a family are present with hundreds of close friends, when two parents marry off the last of their four children, when one newly minted husband sings a love song to his bride and she sings back to him, when all of these things happen — all of time collapses together into a single moment. To witness that moment is a great privilege, which I won’t forget.