A November day arrives
sycamore leaves in mourning colours weep
alongside blood red poppies
scattered bouquets cover the ground
in crimson grief
Passers by simply stop and stare
drenching themselves in the strange sadness
their despairing eyes turned inward
unasked questions hanging in the damp air
like formations of grey mist
I want to run and hide
remove myself from the neat row of crosses
that mark the lost lives of war
but the words ‘For my Dad’
burn in my heart
My tears fall like November rain
I wrote this poem following a visit to Westminster Abbey where I saw all the little wooden crosses laid out in front of the church and watched as passers by stood deep in thought. A soft sorrow filled the air and I thought how many years have we been buying our poppies faithfully, paying our respects to the dead, remembering the bravery of those serving in the armed forces and yet peace (for which they all fight) is no nearer a reality for our world?
Standing in front of the crosses I felt the tension, the pull, the conflict between my soul and my mind; one wanting to reach out with compassion, love and generosity of spirit, the other wanting to recoil and distance myself from the futility of violence and the reminder of the threat that war creates in our lives. It was as if one part of me wanted to love and embrace my fellow men and the other wanted to judge and condemn them for being involved in wars that inflicted pain and caused unnecessary death. It was as if one part of me wanted to find someone to blame for all the distress I could feel around me and the other wanted to love them for having no choice but to enter into war as the only means to an end that they could think of.
The ambivalence I felt that day has never left me and somehow I have to find a way to live with the unease that war creates in me. As a pacifist, left to my own devices I prefer the incentive of the carrot to the reproach of the stick however as Remembrance day approaches I am left to ponder many questions:
“Is war a necessary evil?”
“Can peace ever be achieved through fighting?”
“Doesn’t adding fuel to the fire only make it burn more fiercely?”
“If fighting only serves to perpetuate conflict but doing nothing leaves us vulnerable and at risk, are there any other viable alternatives?”
There are no easy answers to these questions and perhaps we each must navigate our own way through these difficult and challenging issues. One question that returns to me time and time again though is this: “What is it that we are we remembering?” By that I mean what is the FOCUS of our remembrance? Is it the futility of war? The waste of life, the cruelty, the pain, the unnecessary evil of it all? Or is it the longing for peace, a thankfulness for what the bravery and commitment of individuals has achieved for us, a desire to honour and celebrate the good intent behind the violent actions and to commit ourselves to the values of freedom, justice and peace?
We are all familiar with the brutal face of war but what is the face of remembrance? Are the two faces the same or different? Perhaps the difference is only a very subtle one found in the fact that the face of remembrance casts its gaze in a different direction to that of the face of war. Perhaps it is the same face with a different focus and it is this focus alone that has the power to make a difference in the world? I believe that being clear about our focus is absolutely essential if the act of remembrance is to ever succeed in achieving its true purpose.
Perhaps it may be helpful here to take a look at the verb to remember. To remember means to reinstate our membership, to rejoin or re connect with something that we have forgotten we belong to. While this may have implications for personal remembrance (i.e. remembering a family member or lost loved one) I think it has even wider implications that that. Could it be that at the heart of our remembrance is a need to regroup beyond the limitations imposed by an allegiance only to an individual country,race, religion or set of beliefs?
Perhaps what we are remembering at some deep level is that we are all a part of a wider, larger family, the human family and even wider that that the family of LIFE, of LIVING things. Is there something at the very core of our being that is wired for LIFE so that when we stop to contemplate the hard evidence of war we naturally and instinctively move to reject it. Is there something deep within us that knows we are not here to contemplate death and destruction but to celebrate life and to nurture and cherish it in all its forms because this is WHERE WE ALL BELONG?
Is our REMEMBRANCE about remembering this COMMON inheritance and if so how does this impact on our everyday living and the choices we make as advocates of LIFE?
Perhaps all is not yet lost? Perhaps there are numerous daily battles and skirmishes that we each face every day that could benefit from our remembering to choose to gaze in a different direction – a one that brings us to a place of communion, connection and a healthy celebration of the diversity of life rather than a place of separation, hostility and senseless judgement. Perhaps by refocusing our gaze in this way we can all, in our own small ways be instruments of change and wearing our poppies can be a proud symbol of our own individual commitment to this process?
Please share your thoughts.....
The opinions I express here are my own. However I offer them with the word 'syat' next to them. 'Syat' is a word used by the Jain Tribe in India which means 'To the best of my knowledge SO FAR.' In the spirit of openness I invite comments from anyone whether you agree with my point of view or not. In this way we can all learn and grow together. Thank you.