Sunday, 13 November 2011

We will remember them

Morning, Lord.

I've been watching the Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph in London and we went to the Remembrance Day service at church this morning. 

I wore my poppy and stood in silence by the war memorial at church. The children behaved themselves beautifully and the quiet and stillness gave me time to think.

So many people have died.

It's a dank, dark day today. In London it's bright and crisp and autumnal which makes for good television and nice camera angles with a few remaining orange and red leaves in the corner of the picture, but up here it's misty and damp. Light drizzle. I always think its appropriate when Remembrance Sunday falls on this sort of day, where we huddle in black overcoats and the mood is sombre and reflective. 

Hundreds of servicemen and women have marched today and laid wreaths at war memorials all over the country and abroad. This is the first year that there are no veterans from World War I alive to remember their fallen comrades. If so many were there this morning in London, and so many others were standing in silence in all the other towns and cities and villages - and so many were watching on the television, and so many are away fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq or all the many other places where the military has a presence - and so many are hospitalised or incapacitated and unable to attend, and so many have died over the years... then there are an awful lot of people who have fought for this country. Add to that vast number of the wives and husbands and parents and sons and daughters and friends of those who have been killed and the numbers of those whose lives have been affected by war astonishes me.

The scale of the damage is breathtaking. The commentator described the different regiments and gave an account of their contributions in the war; their numbers and losses. I can't pretend to have any real awareness of it as my history is rubbish and my grasp of large numbers is also limited, but I sat with my coffee and watched the men and women march with pride and place their wreaths reverently at the Cenotaph and I had a glimpse of the enormity of the pain and grief that has been caused and absorbed over the years. The injured and infirm were pushed past in wheelchairs and some walked with jacket sleeves pinned where their arms used to be. Many of them had medals displayed on their chests and to a man (and woman) they had their heads held high. 

I wonder what they thought about as they marched today. I wonder if their thoughts were occupied with the occasion and the effort of marching in time, or if they had in mind their memories; the experiences of war, the colleagues who didn't make it home. Some of them were frail and struggled to keep the pace of the march. Some were supported by someone walking next to them. Old men with white hair and shaking hands; once full of youth and strength and courage. With tales to tell that people like me can only marvel at. I wonder if they still find their sleep disturbed with their recollections. 

What do we think of these people, Lord? Do we think of them at all? Why do we treat our elderly so badly in our culture? In some parts of the world those with grey hair are revered and respected for their advancing years. Here, as we get older we seem to decrease in value in inverse proportion to the wrinkles we have on our faces. Old people say that they feel invisible and unwanted and are often lonely and isolated. They were all young, once. They were strong and vital and beautiful and handsome and decisive and and they went to war to fight on our behalf.

We need to teach our children to see beyond a frail body or a wandering mind and appreciate people properly. My girls watched five minutes of the Remembrance parade on television and they lost interest because all they saw was a column of older people walking past a statue. How can we get it across to them? The courage and the determination and the loyalty and triumph and the despair and the pain and the loss?

Maybe that's for another day. They're only little. They don't know anything about war or killing or bombs and guns and long may it stay that way. I think it's only as I get older I appreciate more and more what is going on and Remembrance Day moves me more every year. 

What do you make of it all, Father God? It must grieve you immeasurably to see the devastation that we bring on ourselves. Surely you must look at the death and destruction and the terror and the maiming and the bereavement and loss and be filled with sadness at how far we have drifted from what you had planned for us. Do the acts of heroism and bravery that inspire us down here on earth and give us hope shine as brightly in Heaven or are they swallowed up by the darkness of what we have created here with our greed and intolerance and hatred?

I don't understand it. At school I learned about 'The Just War' and we were given a set of criteria that might indicate that it was alright to go to war. Are there some occasions when it is right to invade and kill and others when it isn't? Who gets to decide - and are they equipped to make such a decision? I watch the news and I see injustices and atrocities and conflicts and I don't understand when it's right to go to war and when it's right to do nothing. I am glad that it isn't my job to decide. I just watch these people marching in their smart uniforms with their medals and memories and hear their stories of horror and fear and courage and grief and I wonder what you think of it all. 

The First World War, the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iran/Iraq, the Sudanese civil war, Angola, India/Pakistan, Rwanda...I find that each of these conflicts killed more than a million people; World War II fifty-five million people. Fifty-five million. Just a little bit of research has left me reeling. More than one hundred and sixty million people have been killed in wars in the twentieth century.


They will not grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them or the years condemn
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen, 1914



I know that you don't need statistics. You loved every single one of those men and women, didn't you? You don't love the victors any more than you love the defeated, do you? You grieve at each death, each injury, each bereavement. You don't distinguish between nationalities, language or political opinion. You don't care about colour of skin and your love is so generous that it transcends religious affiliation.

You wept with each widow as she received news that her husband was dead. You still do. Only last week I read of another life lost in Afghanistan. A young soldier trod on a mine and was blown to bits.  He had a wife and a baby son. How it must hurt you that we don't seem to learn.

You came to bring us peace and we fight.
You came to bring us life and we kill.
You came to unite and we war with each other.
You came to share and we are selfish.
You came to give and we take.
You came to love and we are filled with hatred. 

When will it stop? Only you know that one. 

So I wear my poppy and I stand in silence for a moment or two and I remember our dead soldiers and I watch those who were there march and salute and bend to lay a wreath and they understand so much better than I do what it is we are remembering. 

And then I go about my day.

Your kingdom come, Lord Jesus. 


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