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Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’

There are times when I say my prayers and thank God that I live in peacetimes.  That I am not worried that bombs will rain down on our heads in the night, that I will not have to gather my babies up from their beds and rush for the relative safety of a bombshelter, or the crowded Underground.  That I don’t have to make that unspeakable choice to either keep my children with me in a blitz-targeted city, or pack their bags and send them on a train, on their own, to some stranger I’ve never met — who may be good or bad, kind or cruel — in order to gain the safety of the countryside.

I thank God that I am not peeping out my window, terrified, wondering when the storm of war will appear over the hill, come rolling down my road to envelope me, my home, everything I love.  I am grateful that I don’t have to worry about wandering bands of men and boys who are feeling the thrill of power for the first time, the menace of their guns, the dominance of their sex.

And though the economy is tough right now, I am grateful that there is food aplenty, fuel for the house and the car, no blackouts, no shortages.  It’s been hard to get by lately, with M’s short hours, and maybe it was a silly time to start my little business, but it’s nothing like it would be in wartimes.  During wartimes, life is really hard.

Today the sun is shining in a blazing blue sky, and the birds have been singing happily — a little too loudly — outside my window.  Traffic is quiet because it’s a three-day weekend, the girls are playing together, and my parents will be coming round later for a barbeque.  The fridge is already full to bursting in preparation.  The news in my news-stream is the usual…  mundane… nothing interesting.

Thank God for peacetimes.  Thank God for peacetimes!

And then I remember — with a little surprise — that these are not peacetimes.  We are at war!  And all the fighting and the shooting and the chaos that I fear is going on right now.  There are soldiers fighting — scrambing, sweating, filled with adrenaline and fear — and enemies to be fought.   There are civilians caught in the crossfire, mothers reaching out in the dust and rubble for their terrified children.  There are shortages and hunger, homes destroyed, lives destroyed…  soldiers injured, dying…  and their families back home.

It’s so easy to forget — here amongst our everyday lives, our normal lives.  It’s on the news, but who is really watching the news?  And who can keep up?  Another bomb… another marketplace or military column…  We hardly look up from our dinners:  Where was it?  Didn’t catch it…  Another mouthful, mmmmm dinner is good tonight.

I had forgotten.  I am shamed to realise I had forgotten we are at war.  I was thanking God for the peace while others were fighting and dying, and ducking in the crossfire.  And I was lying in my quiet bed, in the quiet dark, safe and warm, saying my prayers and then drifting to sleep.

This Memorial Day, let me wake a little, and remember the soldiers who are deployed and their families who are desperate for them to come home.  Let me remember the soldiers who have died, and pray strength for those left grieving them.  Let me pause and think of the civilians caught in the indiscriminate cruelty of war, the mothers and fathers terrified for their children… or who have lost them.  Let me remember even our enemies, that there can be an end to this, and mercy for us all.

Most of all, let me remember how easy it is to forget, and so not to forget again.  There is little that I can do to change or end this war, but this Memorial Day, let me realise that what I can do is to not forget.

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Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday in the UK, so today I took the girls to the war memorial. I wanted to see how many men from our little town had lost their lives in the wars.

We had to hunt down the memorial. Unlike most cenotaphs in Britain, ours is not located in a prominent position in the town center. I don’t know if it was once or not, but these days it occupies a quiet position at the back of the town carpark, where is it passed by and seen by nearly no one. Indeed, even though I knew that’s where it was, I still had trouble seeing it until we were nearly on top of it. It felt wrong to me, that it should be hidden away like that, as if it were an afterthought or something that was in the way of the everyday business of the town.

It was covered in poppy wreaths, about 20 of them which were laid yesterday, and that gave the forgotten and cold stone monument a welcome feeling of relevance. I felt suddenly honourbound to read the cards on each wreath, one by one, and then looked for the stone with the names of the dead. The stone for the first World War took up a large space at the back of the memorial, with a smaller stone for the second World War added on to the side of it. The names of the dead soldiers from the first war alone numbered 86. As little country towns go, ours is a large one, but back in 1911 (just before the Great War), it was quite small: just over 850 families, according to the census data. Eighty-six men dead in 4 years, out of such a small community. In the back of my head, I’d always known the death toll in the Great War had been devastating, but those numbers made it suddenly very real, very local.

I read the names and recognised many of them — businesses that have been here for generations: the name of the local ironmonger, the local undertaker, the local firm of solicitors. I pass these names daily on shop-signs as I walk through town, and all of them had lost someone in the war. Several families had lost more than one: one family had lost three sons, and another had lost four. I thought of the mothers of those sons — how did they bear it?

The girls had been sitting in their pushchair looking bewildered and now they started to fidget. E2 let out a few yelps and E1 began to instruct me, “No, Mummy, this way…” pointing her finger away back to town. War memorials in quiet carparks are boring. Shops and busy sidewalks are much more interesting. I explained that this was a memorial and told them both that many men had died for our sakes, so I wanted to look at their names and remember them. It meant nothing to either of them, but they both stopped complaining for a moment and looked more bewildered than before, which bought me a few more moments with my thoughts, my god, and the dead.

And then I relented. I walked back to the pushchair and turned it around, started back through the carpark — my daughter pointing the way — and returned the three of us to the bustling town and our busy lives.

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