Why We Memorialize and Remember Sacred Places

U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl HarborFew single events in history truly deserve the descriptor “The day the world changed forever.”

My top candidate?  December 7, 1941.

As the son of a World War II naval veteran, I had long heard about the impact of that day on my parents as well as my aunts and uncles – most of whom served in the war.  When I became a student of history, I read about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and felt the sacrifice made by the men and women who woke up on a beautiful Sunday morning in Hawaii and then – at 7:52 a.m. when the first bombs landed – had their lives shattered forever.

And as I think of the years that followed that “date which will live in infamy” – the engagement of the entire world in a horrific war; the dawn of the atomic age; the rise of the United States, the Soviet Union, and China; the growth of the military-industrial complex; the changes in how we view civil liberties – the impacts seem infinite.

Earlier this week – prior to the Memorial Day holiday – I was at work with colleagues and partners in Hawaii, trying to save a memorial from an earlier war – the Great War.  When 10,000 citizens of the territory of Hawaii joined in the defense of our country during WWI, their sacrifice was recognized with a beautiful memorial – the Beaux Arts-style Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial.  As a saltwater pool situated at the foot of Diamond Head in the beautiful ocean waters, the Natatorium was designed as a living memorial:  a place from the past that would be relevant today and help provide repose and reflection for future generations.

Natatorium and Waikiki Beach

Natatorium Arch

Unfortunately, the Natatorium has been allowed to deteriorate, and the cost of rehabilitation is open to question, as is the expense of demolition and replacement of the beach.  Adrienne LaFrance, writing for The Atlantic, has a beautiful essay about the importance of the Natatorium in The Improbable Persistence of Swimming Pools Built in the Ocean.  Near the end, LaFrance notes:

Many of those who long supported saving the pool have died. And so: stories of the old Natatorium are disappearing. And yet the architecture itself contributes to a narrative that is otherwise unavailable. It is a steady, hulking memory of the past that lives with us in the present. In the shadow of the volcano Diamond Head on one side, the Natatorium feels puny and new. But looking the other way, toward the modern hotels that crawl up the coast, the old memorial is like an anchor that keeps a piece of the past from being swept out to sea.

Memorials are about memory, which is “an essential part of consciousness” as quoted in my colleague Tom Mayes’ series of essays on Why Do Old Places Matter?

Places are key triggers for both individual memory…and collective memory, the memory shared by the larger society. Diane Barthel, in Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historic Identity, captures the relationship between individual memory and collective memory in a discussion of religious buildings: “Religious structures play a specially significant part in the collective memory as places where moments in personal history become part of the flow of collective history. This collective history transcends individual experiences and lifetimes.” One need only think about important national sites to see the blending of the two types of memory and how they are tied to place. 

I was reminded of all this as I stood on the U.S.S. Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor last Friday – the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend. A chance comment that I had not been able to get a ticket to the memorial, made at an earlier work meeting, resulted in an early morning tour with my colleagues and Navy personnel on my last day on the island.  The solitude on a picture perfect day, the names of the 1,177 who died on the Arizona on December 7th, the two stones beside the wall of honor with the names of the survivors of the attack who later chose to be buried with their comrades, the views down to the sunken decks…all came together to memorialize a sacred place, and the sacrifice of those who died that morning.

U.S.S. Arizona in Pearl Harbor on Memorial Day Weekend

In this day and age, we glorify the individual and forget that it is the collective – the community – that holds us together.  Places such as the U.S.S. Arizona memorial – and I would argue the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial – are indeed “places where moments in personal history become part of the flow of collective history.”  History that transcends individual experiences and lifetimes.

We are judged not just by what we build, but by what we choose to save and remember from the past.

With profound gratefulness on this Memorial Day for our men and women in service who made the supreme sacrifice.

More to come…



How to Lower Your Blood Pressure

Nats Bobble HeadsWhen it comes to the Washington Nationals, I’ve figured out how to lower my blood pressure: simply stop watching the game (or leave, as was the case last night) before Rafael Soriano comes out to “save” the ninth!

I am NOT a fan of leaving the game early, but Soriano’s brushes with disaster in the ninth inning are becoming much too predictable – and too hard on my heart!  Last night’s game was a case in point.

Candice and I strolled into Nationals Park on a picture perfect Friday evening.  The surprises began as we walked in the gate:  who knew it was Wilson Ramos bobble head night?!  So in the man cave I now have The Buffalo, down in his crouch, ready to catch a pitch from my Stephen Strasburg bobble head!  (And with former Nat Michael Morse – the Beast – in the on-deck circle, among others.)

In a break from tradition this year, the Nats jumped out early against the Mets, with a three-run first.  Young Tanner Roark was pitching a masterful game.  Teddy won the President’s Race.  The  bullpen joined the game in the 6th and held down the fort.  5-2 score through seven.  All was well with the world.

Then an unexpected rain shower showed up in the 8th inning. After Tyler Clippard recorded the final out in the inning, I turned to the our friend who has the season tickets behind us and said, “Okay, you’ll have to help Soriano get home.  We’re going to duck the rain.”  She just laughed.

Somehow, I had a premonition.  But predicting Soriano’s ninth inning meltdowns doesn’t take a rocket scientist these days.

We didn’t miss much.  Just two quick outs, then a nut runs out on the field and gets tackled by security personnel.  Soriano gets flustered and walks the next two, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of the Mets hottest hitter, Daniel Murphy.  And Soriano gives up a long fly ball to right field, sending Jayson Werth to the wall, where he jumped – and robbed Murphy of a home run!

No, didn’t miss too much.

A win is a win, and Candice and I had a wonderful night together after she’s been out of town for a couple of weeks.  But please, guys, don’t always make those wins come with so much drama!

More to come…


Frank Solivan Stirs the Pot

Frank Solivan at Cedar Lane If you had to be inside on a drop dead gorgeous Sunday afternoon in Washington, I couldn’t imagine a better place than sitting in the sun-drenched hall of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church listening to the incredible musicianship of Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen.

The Dirty Kitchen Band is on a roll.  Besides making the More to Come… Best of Bluegrass 2013 list (a high honor indeed!), banjoist Mike Munford is the 2013 International Bluegrass Music Association (IMBA) Banjo player of the year, while guitarist Christ Luquette is the IBMA Instrumentalist of the Year Momentum Award winner.  Bluegrass Today said that with their second release (On the Edge), Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen could now be reaching the kind of name recognition that puts them into any conversation about the elite contemporary bands.”  And what other band is fronted by a chef who will whip up a special meal for you prior to the concert (and hence the name).

Their two-hour show as part of the Concerts at Cedar Lane series showcased tunes old and new, all played with an incredibly high level of musicianship.  They opened with July You’re a Woman from the band’s debut album, and quickly mixed in tunes from a new Compass Records release coming this summer.  The jazzy Days Gone By written by Solivan’s cousin Megan McCormick, was a highlight of the new tunes. A couple of traditional gospel tunes – Cryin’ Holy and Wayfaring Stranger, the latter sung by Solivan’s mother – nodded to the traditional roots of bluegrass.

Dirty Kitchen Band at Cedar Lane

But when the Dirty Kitchen Band stretched their chops, they were impressive indeed.  The arrangements were tight, controlled, yet still exhilarating.  A reworking of Pure Prairie League’s Country Song allowed these musicians to showcase their prowessWhen Solivan switched to his mandola, the musical timbre grew darker and more complex.

Frank Solivan and Chris Luquette

For me, the highlight was toward the end of the second set when Luquette hit the opening notes of the Tony Rice instrumental Is That So from the Mar West album. In the hands of Luquette, Solivan, and the Dirty Kitchen Band, Rice’s beautiful tune was respected and expanded.  Munford’s banjo added a new dimension not found on the original, and bassist Dan Booth anchored this jazzy tune with the same strong musicianship he demonstrated all afternoon.  We don’t hear enough of Tony’s instrumental songbook in acoustic music today.  This was a terrific arrangement that I hope will end up on a future Dirty Kitchen album.

Mike Munford

The Letter and an encore “for friends, old and new” ended what was a very satisfying afternoon of bluegrass.  Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen are playing a few more dates in the metro DC area this summer, in addition to major festivals such as Telluride and Grey Fox.  If you get the chance to hear this band, do yourself a favor and check them out.  Until then, enjoy the video of The Letter, as Solivan, Munford, and Luquette trade solos back and forth with all the ease and skill you expect from such a pot boiler of a band.

More to come…