At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, people gather around cenotaphs. They wait for the trumpeter to herald the moment to remember those who served, suffered, died and survived human wars.
One memorial occasion bursts onto my inner memory screen.
A beautiful November 11th brought a capacity crowd to the war memorial in a medium-sized town in my native land. Music reverberated across distant hills and spoken words ricocheted across history, culminating in a profound moment of silence.
Suddenly, the sky turned black and torrents of rain drenched those standing on the cold autumn ground. Many sprinted to their vehicles for shelter. I stoically stood there, eyes closed, thinking, “Getting wet is a small price to pay, compared to the sacrifices made by those we are here to remember.”
World War One chaplain Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy (nicknamed “Woodbine Willie” by the troops) expressed it more forcefully.
As the war was ending, he wrote the poem Marching Home. He penned the hopes and aspirations of those who had fought and survived. They were, actually or figuratively, marching home to build a life modeled after the gospel of “the lowly Prince of Peace.”
In this new world, wars would cease, the physical and mental captives would find release and the strong would help the weak.
Beginning in people’s hearts, there would be no boundaries or limits to the good that could be achieved. “It’s there we shall remember those who died for me and you,” was Woodbine Willie’s vision.
We are still working on that vision, despite God’s world being battered by hurricanes, wars, violence, earthquakes, refugees fleeing homelands and other natural or human engineered disasters.
Here are two stories about individuals making the vision a reality.
Rabbi Dow Marmur (Toronto Star, Monday, September 11) wrote about Father Michael Lapsley, a member of an Anglican religious order. Sent to South Africa after his ordination in 1973, he was expelled by the government and went to live in another African country.
In 1990, he opened a letter containing a bomb that “blew off both his hands and one of his eyes.”
After recovering, he wrote a book which Dow called “a remarkable account of how to heal hatred.” He quoted Richard, “If I were consumed by hatred, bitterness and revenge, I would be a victim forever. My oppressors would have failed to kill my body but they certainly would have killed my soul.”
Today Richard travels the globe advocating peacemaking. Dow wrote, Richard believes “the future of humanity isn’t a Christian future but an interfaith future. We’re in this together—Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and all others.”
The second illustration comes from the most powerful obituary I ever read.
Margaret traversed this earth for 92 years, dealing with human life in all its fullness.
Her family suggested how she could be remembered by family and friends.
Since Margaret “tended to put the needs of others ahead of her own,” they recommended, “reaching out to someone with an act of kindness, an offer to help, a phone call, a visit or a donation to a charity of choice.”
In conversation (Matthew 25: 35ff) with his followers Jesus said, I was hungry you fed me, thirsty you gave me a drink, a stranger you welcomed me, needed clothes you clothed me, sick or in prison you visited me.
Confused they asked, “When did we do all of that?”
Jesus answered, whatever you do for another human being, you are doing it to me.
It is through our living legacies of interrelationships and service to all people that “we will remember them.”
Hollis welcomes your feedback.