In November of 2013, I took my dad to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as a birthday present to him. It was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Dad had never been to Gettysburg. He did have the Address somewhat memorized from childhood, and was excited to spend a long weekend with his daughter (at least, that's what he told me). I invited my older brother along, and the three of us met up in Chicago. We flew to Washington DC, then rented a car, and drove to Gettysburg.
Smartly, we didn't go on the weekend of the 150th anniversary, choosing to go the week after: fewer people, less crowding. Go us.
We went to the museum in the morning, then off to fields of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was cold and windy, but sunny. We walked around the grounds, walked down the fields, stood by the memorials, and lost ourselves in sadness of a ground that absorbed 8000 deaths in three days.
Afterward, we drove back to Washington DC, had dinner, and relaxed in the evening. The next morning, we went to the Lincoln Memorial and walked most of the way along the National Mall, before deciding that we didn't really need to freeze to death so close to a warm, underground subway station, and hustled down to the subway for our trip back to the hotel, and eventually back home.
When Dad was in Portland last year with Chris and me, visiting B, I commented about Gettysburg, and he looked at me oddly. I asked him if he remembered going to Gettysburg with Chris and me. He said no, he didn't remember Gettysburg. He did remember, however, the police officer at the Lincoln Memorial commenting favourably about Dad's NRA hat. He remembered that really well. Remembered it well enough that he repeats the story frequently. Dad is a charmer that way.
Dad's loss of memory of something as big as my gift of Gettysburg was somewhat of a blow to me. I had arranged that entire trip, paid for nearly all of it, acted as tour guide for both Chris and Dad, and made sure we saw all the sites, did all the things. He didn't remember it. He remembered the guy who was talking about guns. He didn't remember standing on that hilltop, the killing field below us, and being unable to speak. He didn't remember my standing at the place where Lincoln had stood nearly 150 years before. He didn't remember my reciting the Gettysburg Address from memory, for him. He didn't remember the subway in DC. He didn't remember seeing my standing in the Lincoln Memorial, tears running down my face. He didn't remember any of it except the compliment about his hat.
I pondered this, this pain, for a while. I wondered, if your parent doesn't remember an event, is it still worth doing? If anyone doesn't remember something, is it still worth doing?
And I decided yes. He didn't remember it, but I did. I remembered it. And some day, I won't. Some day, both of us will be gone, but we will have had that experience together. We walked along that hilltop, the wind scouring our eyes, and felt the loss. We remembered those men who struggled there, who hallowed that ground. We thanked them for the freedom they earned for us (even as we cursed the people who try to take it away these days). I saw the look in my dad's face as he was overwhelmed with emotion; he saw the same in my face.
So, yes. Yes, the experience was worth it. I am glad I have the means to fly my dad and my brother across a continent and learn a bit of history together. Even as Dad forgets, and the intensity of the weekend fades from my memory, even as I forget, it was worth it. Just as many of the experiences I have and too quickly forget are also worth it. Life should be full of joy. Those new experiences are part of that, remembered or not.