remembrance day has always been an ambiguous day for me. good memories : an hour in the rain under a gazillion umbrellas, proudly listening to my daughter singing a song with the girl guides at a remembrance day celebration; or a lovely morning 17 years ago when my then-boyfriend, now-husband were walking up and down the streets trying to find a place to have breakfast.
but mostly there is ambiguity. i watched the berlin wall come down on TV with my ex husband 20 years ago while on a let’s-make-it-up trip following a horrible fight. yes, the wall coming down was amazing, especially after having lived in berlin from 1980 to 1982 (and i’d like to propose pink floyd’s the wall as this year’s song in my annual tradition to suggest non-war remembrance day songs). that was only seven years before the destruction of the wall; it seemed nearly impossible then that it would ever happen. but seeing the wall fall felt as surreal as being on that trip with my ex husband. by that time, i had come to deeply distrust making up after a fight, knowing that the sweetness wouldn’t last long (three days in that case). i’m glad the end of the cold war lasted longer than my marriage, which was to end eight months later.
this surreal, ambiguous flavour has always seasoned my remembrance days. there are all these guys, and a few gals, walking around in their uniforms, wearing poppies. these poppies are pretty – really, they are – but it’s always felt like they were glorifying war. but wait, no, they aren’t. or are they? my head spins over that one every november 11.
questions that come up are: does being a soldier automatically make one complicit in the cruelties of war? if so, is that complicity the same as glorifying the killing, raping and maiming that happens in every war? what exactly are the sacrifices that a soldier makes? when someone celebrates soldiers and what they do, is it nationalism? glorification of war? gratitude? sentimentalism? hero worship? paying hommage to someone who truly deserves it? admiration?
lately, i have been thinking a bit about sacrifice, partly because of a book i am reading right now, the priority of love: christian charity and social justice, by timothy p. jackson. he proposes some instances of sacrifice as a truly sacred act, an act of love and surrender not in a masochistic sense or as something forced in oppression, but a giving of oneself in the deepest meaning of charity.
a soldier dying in the battle of metz 65 years ago – what sacrifice might that have been? what if we was protecting a fellow soldier, a brother-in-arms, a relationship that some say is as tight and binding as the one between mother and child?
i can’t get behind wars, never. maybe that’s because i was brought up in a fiercely pacifist household; even my grandfather refused to fight and opted to be a medic instead. but i can get behind one man giving his life, using his body as a shield so another may live.