Sunday I gave a devotion at the memorial service at my 30-year high school reunion. I prepared remarks that weren't really very religiously focused since I wasn't sure what religious backgrounds would be represented either by the people attending or by the those who'd passed away. Persons of a faith background may cast different parts of this devotional into that background as they may feel appropriate. I've also omitted the opening part, where I told my classmates that standing before them in this kind of role was one of those deeply weird experiences that I'm pretty sure I never thought would happen.
When Steven Spielberg
was interviewing World War II veterans for Saving Private Ryan, he
noted how many of the men said they felt they were trying to live lives
worthy of the sacrifices their buddies and fellow soldiers, the ones who
hadn't made it back, had made for them. He distilled that into the line
from Tom Hanks to Matt Damon
near the end of the movie: "Earn this." Later the older version of
Damon's character would ask his wife if he had been a good man and a
good husband and a good father, wanting to believe he had lived a life
worthy of the sacrifices that had been made for him.
I remember some
reactions to that line were kind of unhappy with Hanks' words to Damon
-- they thought that asking someone who lived to earn the sacrifices
made on their behalf, up to and including the greatest sacrifice of all,
was too much. How could a person live up to that kind of expectation?
It was too much, too much to expect of anyone.
But when I reflected
on it and read about Spielberg's research I realized three things: One,
it wasn't likely many soldiers had actually asked that of each other.
Spielberg was as I said illustrating an attitude about the war and those
who fought it by using the phrase. For another, the feeling more likely
grew out of the hearts and minds of the survivors, as they struggled to
honor their fallen comrades in the only way left to them by being the
best men they could be, the kind of men they imagined the fallen would
have been had they lived. The fact that the feeling of debt and
obligation originated in their own feelings certainly didn't make it any
Our friends who've gone on may not have given us any
such challenge either, nor did they sacrifice themselves on our behalf.
But we are still sad about losing them and we
are still sad when we think that our great and good friend who meant so
much to us is now a part of the past and the rest of the world will
move on without them. We don't want this to be -- we may accept it more
now than we did when we were younger, but we don't rest any easier with
We wonder why we are still here even though they are not. We probably wonder it especially when we consider the people we believe offered more to the world than we do, or who we think were nicer or better. We may just wonder why they're gone and what we're supposed to do about it to make sure that their memory remains as long and as bright as possible.
So maybe we should live our lives to to show the world how lucky
it was that our friends were here. We should live our lives to make the
impact they had on us felt far beyond their reach, stilled now in death.
They were good friends and so we'll be good friends. They showed love
and compassion and so we will show love and compassion. They were gone
too soon so we won't let the days go by without telling those we care
about that we do appreciate them and their influence on us.
didn't sacrifice themselves for us, but they gave us the gift of their
friendship. Whether they saw it that way or not, whether they said it or
not, we can live to be worthy of that, to
And the third thing that I learned about what Spielberg had
Tom Hanks say to Matt Damon was that we know we can't earn what was
given to us as a gift. But we make the world and ourselves so much
better when we try.