Memorial Day Reflections

The English word “holiday” originated over 1,000 years ago. In Old English, it took the form of háligdæg, háli-dæig. The first two definitions of holiday in the Oxford English Dictionary are:

  1. A consecrated day, a religious festival. Now usually written holy-day (see holy-day n.).
  2. a. A day on which ordinary occupations (of an individual or a community) are suspended; a day of exemption or cessation from work; a day of festivity, recreation, or amusement. (In early use not separable from sense 1.)

Together, these definitions embody the full spirit of Memorial Day in the US. For those of us lucky enough to have a Monday away from work, alone or in community, we decorate the graves of loved ones, particularly those who gave their lives in faithful service to our country.  Thousands of new miniature Star-Spangled Banners spring up in cemeteries – late May flowers unfurling in the summer sun.  Americans also use Memorial Day for another kind of reflection -the kind that comes from being around and in oceans, lakes, streams, backyard ponds and swimming pools. Memorial Day marks a collective sigh of relief as the cold and dreary Northern winter is replaced by the unofficial grand opening of the summer season.

These two celebrations of Memorial Day can seem millennia apart, separated by decades of cultural crawl away from formality and ceremony.  However, singer-songwriter L.J. Booth eloquently reminds us in his song Rising Star, that human rituals of grieving and remembrance, celebration of new life, and gratitude for the daily bread which sustains us, are closely entwined. And water is a consistent thread weaving our lives together. We incorporate water into formal rituals of baptism, sweat lodges, or washing before prayer as well as our own private moments of rejuvenation. We also seek out water for holiday play – pontooning or paddling, casting flies, spinners and spoons, cannonballing off the floating raft or the side of the pool, or partying at the splash pad – all usually accompanied by the daily ritual of breaking bread with one another.

In the words of Sengalese forestry engineer Baba Dioum, “In the end, we will only conserve what we love . . .” Experiencing water through formal ceremonies, vacation down-time, and the arts fosters emotional connections to water that complement hydrology, soil science, agronomy, ecology, community development, sociology, planning, economics, and other sciences to shed further light on the connections and relationships so necessary for effectively managing water.

So, we hope you got some quality holiday time this Memorial Day weekend, and if you didn’t, that you get some soon. And here’s to a great summer ahead!

-Rebecca Power, Network Director

  1. Hi Rebecca,
    I enjoyed reading about the emotional connections to water complementing what we think of as the sciences.

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