This morning a sniffly S and I showed a defiant red ladybird umbrella to the weeping sky, secured our poppies in place and struck out for school to join others in remembering. The day means different things to different people – it means different things to me each year, as the passing of time renders me better able to see the world beyond my own miniscule indent in it. That’s why it seemed important to be part of the coming together, instead of observing the silence at home – where the damp day and embarrassment of tears brimming in my eyes could be avoided.
As a child of the post-war generation, I’ve never known the fear and chaos of war at home. My first consciousness of its far-reaching tentacles came at school, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The boarders were granted permission to watch the news in the lecture theatre during breaks. Many of them were from Forces families with parents fighting in distant lands their eyes had never seen. Their faces were gouged with worry and they hugged one another and shed tears – the separations of Year or Form suddenly meaningless in their shared experience of impotent agony.
The man I knew as Grandad was in the Navy, his brown, sinewy forearms bore a faded blue Jesus outstretched on a cross and hearts furled with names. He never spoke of it and I never asked, but I remember my Nana telling me of how she ran away to work in a munitions factory because she wanted to be a part of what was happening.
They’ve long since passed but I thought of them both today; wondered what they felt they stood for – the words they’d use to phrase their purpose. During the assembly, a group of students recited John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Field’ and the line that persisted after their voices receded was this:
“To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.”
As a student from Year 6 told us about her great grandfather and shared a photo of them both together, she uprooted the weeds of distance and disconnection that obscure the path of recognition for most of us. Her love for this man, the reality she’s seen through his experienced eyes, and his small part in something bigger than all of us set me thinking about my own family. I imagined standing before my grandparents to answer for the life I’ve continued since theirs ceased. Have I with mine done justice to the sacrifices they made with theirs? What torch do I wish to pass on? What of my parents? Did they strive to be a change in the world?
Every Remembrance Day I’m reminded of the waste and futility of war, the squandering of life through an inability to live and let live. But today I realised something else: the importance of being clear and committed about what matters to you.
Sometimes it’s a struggle to be certain what we stand for. The lines become blurred, the differences too slight – we lose sight of the big picture. I learned today that not only is it vital to be focused about what’s meaningful to us – though we may have to stop and think deep and long because an answer doesn’t come readily – it’s imperative we’re vocal about it too. Speak out for what you believe. Don’t be cowed by disagreement and disinterest. For if we can’t stand up and be counted in the cushion of peacetime, if our privileged lives pass and leave our progeny none the wiser, what value have we been? What waste of this miracle called ‘Life’?
Today, for me, Remembrance is about marking the passing of those who’ve gone before through the force of my commitment, because through our actions our lives bear testament to them and give their brief existence continued meaning. I’ll try harder to be the change I want to see in the world so that those left behind when I’m gone will have no doubt about what my life stood for.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”