Last year, (post updated) I overheard someone rant about how Remembrance Day should not be celebrated in church (Remembrance Day fell on a Sunday last year). What happened was so long ago and more recent conflicts were far worse. Refugees from recent conflicts are devastated and torn apart far worse than anything that ever happened in the great wars.
The historian in me raised an eyebrow at that. I know what specific conflict this person was referring to, and it was off-the-charts horrible, no argument. The point of the moment of silence on Remembrance Day isn’t to diminish the horror of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, the genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq, Myanmar–pick a contemporary atrocity. It’s to remember the men and women, past AND PRESENT, who served our country and even gave their lives for the freedoms we now enjoy.
Sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story…
I can quote statistics to demonstrate the scale of devastation and loss from the Great Wars, but many would shrug. Big numbers are hard to relate to. Those things happened “over there” and a long time ago. We can talk to and sit across from those who have suffered and survived more recent conflicts. Of course those losses seem greater because now they’re personal. That conflict is not just about numbers or leaders or strategies, it’s about someone you know and maybe even love. I think that’s the point of those sharing the photos of those they loved who fought in the World Wars or Korea.
One of the first things you learn as a storyteller is to leave out the numbers. Numbers are cold and meaningless unless you can attach a single face to that loss. The losses in World War 2 mean little until we’re invested in a story about a nurse or a zoo keeper who risked everything to rescue Jews trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto. Until we know the story of a business man who employed Jews in his factory to save them from the concentration camps. Until we hear the story from our grandfather or great grandfather of the man who stayed behind and died so the rest of the company could escape. Now it’s personal. Now it’s touched us. Numbers don’t compel us to care–stories do.
I had the absolute privilege of interviewing veterans of WWII and the Korean War. I held an RAF aviator’s leather gloves, soft with use and worn through around the thumb from the stick in the cockpit. Pride strengthened an old voice as he recalled with perfect clarity his missions flying a Mosquito bomber over France in 1945.
I understand that refugees here in Canada have come from probably terrible circumstances (otherwise they wouldn’t be refugees). They have survived things they’ll never be able to forget. I’m in no way dismissing what they’ve endured or their suffering, but why can’t we also remember the contribution of those who fought for the country that gave those refugees a safe place to flee to! Let’s never say that the sacrifice of those we can no longer look in the eye isn’t worth remembering or worse — isn’t worth remembering on Sundays in church because the freedom to be in that church on a Sunday was one of the freedoms these men fought for.
Every year, as I take that moment of silence and hear the trumpets play, I cry. What they did is worth remembering. Their sacrifice is worth acknowledging. Those currently serving deserve our prayers, even if we only think to offer them up once a year.
Dotted across this country, in virtually every village, town, and city are epitaphs and monuments to those who fought and died in WWI and WWII (and in some places the Korean War as well). Those who lived through those conflicts wanted to make sure those who came after did not forget! Don’t overlook or dismiss what their sacrifice accomplished and won for us just because they’re not here any longer. I remember standing in that cold November wind, leaves blowing against my legs and face, shivering and shaking as a young student. I watched that old man at the epitaph with medals on his chest march a wreath to the foot of the monument and salute those who had fallen. I watched the young soldier march a wreath to the monument and salute those who lost their lives and those currently serving.
I think God was in those conflicts and with those men and I think He’s there now too. And do we really begrudge those men and women, of all faiths who serve and have served, a single minute of silence on a Sunday?
I’m not in any way diminishing the experiences of refugees fleeing from conflicts, but don’t tell me that there’s no place in church in remember those who fought and died for this country on Remembrance Day.
**Puts soapbox away**
What do you think? Is there a place in church for Remembrance Day?