This is a re-post from two years ago, on my first blog. Much has changed in my life since I wrote it, but the sentiment remains the same.
With respect and gratitude to our men and women in uniform, past and present, still living and gone too soon. Thank you!
As a public servant, this is my second year in which I’ve had Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday.
Last year, being bedridden due to the flu, I watched the service from Ottawa on TV. This year, I was able to walk three blocks to Burlington City Hall for our service. Working for the Province makes this no more or less my civic duty, though it does make it easier to serve.
Near the end of the ceremony, a Fransciscan friar took the podium. By this time, many in the crowd were footsore from standing for an hour or so, and after the laying of the wreaths at the cenotaph, a few were starting to leave. Carrying my laptop on my shoulder for over an hour, I was tempted as well, but I chose to finish what I began and hear him out. I’m glad I did. The friar told the story of his visit to Assisi, Italy. A pilgrimage for his Order, the trip to Assisi revealed to him the beauty of the city, and the energy that resides there.
I’ve spoken with people who have made the trip, both Catholic and non-Catholic, who have reported that feeling of sacredness there, of the sensation of God and spirit that defies the often hate-filled dogmas of the fundamentalists that taint what should be a religion of peace and forgiveness.
Spirit and light in Assisi…….and yet, not far from the city, in the surrounding lowlands, the Assisi War Cemetery sits. 945 Allied soldiers from World War II lie buried there. 50 of them are Canadian.
The friar spoke slowly and deliberately of the contrast of the joy in the city atop the hill and the sombre mood below where the graves lie.
Googling Assisi in World War II, after the ceremony, I learned that his Order had worked to save over 300 Jews from being sent to the extermination camps by dressing them as priests and nuns, at one point forging Nazi documents so well that they managed to convince the Nazi garrison that Assisi was an open city, thus saving it from destruction.
Imagine: a single beacon of human spirit shining through a landscape darkened not merely by war, but by the dark shadow of mankind made manifest in the Third Reich. The Nazis were a particular evil that saw entire peoples decimated in the name of racial and ideological superiority.
Growing up in an age of moral relativism, where there is no longer automatic consensus to tar and feather a wartime enemy as absolutely evil simply because the government says we should, there is no way anyone in my generation can not see the scourge of Nazism for what it was.
Ditto for the Taliban, and al Quaeda, who remain an Islamic version of that kind of oppression, destruction, darkness, and suppression of the human spirit. The shadow of humanity manifests itself time and again in many places, in many faiths, in many ideologies. Every nation, every faith, every person, is susceptible to the shadow.
And half a century ago, an alliance of free nations – in all of their shortcomings, civic imperfections, and checkered histories – recognized the shadow for what it was and sent their best to liberate and protect places like Assisi from the darkness.
The friar’s admiration of our troops was clear enough, but what caught me was his concluding quote from the Book of Revelation. I was struck by the following:
“In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bore twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
The reconciliation of humanity with its own shadow is no mere New Age metaphor, but a real experience, a physical battle that takes place throughout the world. And sometimes we ourselves play the role of shadow, as all the controversies of the past fifty years of foreign policy bear out.
Elements of the darkness that our troops continue to battle also appear within our borders: in the political and fundamentalist demagoguery we see appearing on the news; in new political and religious movements that embody anger and intolerance poorly disguised as meaningful change. The National Socialist German Worker’s Party began as such a movement; the Taliban and al Quaeda emerged in houses of worship. As both examples demonstrate, under the right conditions, the men who shout at the rain from their soapboxes today become those who manifest genocide in the world tomorrow. Sometimes all too easily.
But in those who embrace life, and love, and spirit, and compassion lies all of our hope. Peace is possible by acknowledging our dark sides as individuals. “A world of individuals at peace with themselves is a world at peace”, as Dr. Dyer says, but it all starts with you. What will you do to acknowledge your own darkness, and thus prevent it from taking over?
Remembrance Day has grown far beyond its original historical purpose – to commemorate the British war dead of World War I – and is not the celebration of war, but the acknowledgement of a fundamental paradox of the human experience: that we must sometimes fight for peace.
That we should prevent horror by addressing human grievances before they take root and grow into something far more sinister and deadly.
And most importantly, to remember and thank those who stood, and stand, between us and the darkness that grows too big and dangerous to mitigate by non-violent means.
And as the Franciscan stated so eloquently, today does not belong only to us, but to all, that the leaves of the Tree of Life that lives in us all will heal us all, that all nations may live in peace.
To those who stood and stand for that peace, and to those who fell in its name, with all of the gratitude that one soul can muster….thank you.