Pearl Harbor and You

I read about a week or so ago that the Pearl Harbors Survivors Association is dying. Literally. The members of the organization—devoted to remembering an event they lived through in December 1941—are passing away. The river rolls on.

Two things die with them. One is the collective oral memories of the members. Yes, it’s likely many of the members wrote their memories down on paper. But there’s something irretrievably lost when you can’t ask the members in real time to recall their experiences on that long-ago December day. You never know when a particular question—or perhaps something else, a smell or a sound—will trigger a memory locked away until now. I understand that memory alters but this realization doesn’t change the fact that memory is a powerful, mysterious, and constantly unfolding force.

The other thing that dies away is the group itself, the organization. The members shared a bond and tie, a common moment. Relationships revolved around this memory. They, and only they, had this connection. They were together not because of a conscious plan or strategy. They were together because they endured the same tragedy. And the reality of their situation meant that the death of the group was more starkly inevitable than is sometimes the case.
I ask you to consider a couple of points. First, urge your elderly friends and family to write down their memories—now. Second, using the example of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, ask a few questions of whatever formal group is important to you, such as a company, club, or congregation. What accounts for its continuance? What does its future hold and what is the force that propels it ahead? What would change this propulsion? Is it fundamentally at risk of dying out? Is the element that holds it together any more long-lasting than a shared December morning decades ago?

Indeed, the river rolls on.