My grandpa was a good-looking kid from the Canadian prairie when he marched away to war. He was shot on the side of a hill in Italy during a pre-dawn raid. He fell in the cold, thick mud while it poured rain; everyone rushing past, a stampede. Bright red blood from his back thigh soaked into the thick fabric of his uniform and into the mud. A buddy of his pulled him to safety that day; he slung my grandpa over his back, gear and all, and he ran them both straight down that hill.
My grandpa never talked about the war much. Oh, he sang old songs like “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! We’re going on a mighty mission” and he relentlessly joked about his wound and his buddies from the war. Only once, in uncharacteristic solemnity, did he admit to me that he’d never been so afraid in his life as he was that day on that hill, alone in the mud, surrounded by the sounds of his friends running and screaming and falling and dying in the dark.
“We were terrified,” he said. “We were just a bunch of kids.”
He came home. Many of his friends did not.
November 11 is Remembrance Day for us and for other Commonwealth nations. I have a plastic red poppy pinned to my fall coat.
Today we went to our town’s Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph. Almost every town has a cenotaph to remember those in their town who are buried elsewhere due to to conflict. My eldest daughter is a Girl Guide and they marched in the parade, too, with their neckerchiefs tied and their sashes filled with merit badges for things like “Camping” and “Photography.”
We listened to the bagpipes, we sang O Canada, we stood in silence for two minutes at 11:11 a.m. We listened to a very off-key bugler work his way through the Last Post. Important people laid wreaths at the cenotaph and someone recited “In Flander’s Fields” – I think most of us have it memorized still from elementary school.
When the 3-gun salute went off after the silence, babies and children all cried out at the sharp report and wept. Lest we forget, gunfire is followed by children weeping. I thought of all the children who are hearing gunfire even on this day and then the bagpipes began to play. God forgive us.
War is complex, horrible, evil. As a Christian, I have felt lead to a path of peace-making but I don’t know how that looks all the time, how best to live a consistent pro-life ethic of peace and love in a culture of violence, power, and war. I have a lot of complicated feelings about the military, war, and violence; those feelings began here in these Remembrance Day ceremonies in school gyms and at local cenotaphs. Look at these sad faces, hear the silence, and tell me that war doesn’t haunt year after year after year.
Today is not a day for nationalistic flag-waving. It’s a day for solemn remembrance, quiet knowing, for the resolve of “please never again.”
Today is also for the ones who have said “I was never so scared in my life” and those of us who have heard them say it and known the truth of everything that isn’t said behind those words.
May our veterans know how deeply we grieve with them, pray for them, love them, honour them.
May we fervently pray and speak and work for peace precisely because we remember the cost.
We won’t break faith with them. We remember.