The Last Soldier
It’s almost Remembrance Day. Soon it will be the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th month, when we stop, and fall silent, and remember the dead:––the dead which died, that we might live. And remember the living:––the soldiers, and the survivors; the nurses, and the chaplains; the mothers; the fathers; the sons; the daughters . . .
Those who fought, and bled, and suffered, and were maimed; those who were forever changed by the fields of battle––or by simply “being at home” when the bombs fell. Those changed by sickness, and sorrow; those changed by wretchedness, and loss; those changed by murder, and destruction; those who changed forever, by seeing with their own eyes what you and I have, for the most part, never seen: nor ever will: a world of blood and fire and unspeakable terror; a world in which every bullet and every bomb not only unmade creation, but undid God . . .
And not only remember; but also by God’s mercy make bold to say “thank you” to those who lived, and died and suffered,” in effect on our behalf never forgetting, of course, that “the highest appreciation,” as JFK once said, “is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
These are our intentions: thanking, and remembering.
But as human beings how well do we really remember? How well? And how well do we say “thank you” to those, and for those, who surrendered their lives for the cause of good, or tried to; whose death, and/or service, in effect, said to all the generations to come: “I will give up my life, for you, you children, you grandchildren . . . I will lay down my life, for you; that by my death you will live? How well?
To be honest I grew up in a time in which it was considered gauche to observe Remembrance Day. I never really reflected on its meaning at the time––I didn’t––that was for my parents, and other older persons, to do, so I thought . . . My parents were both older, so they had both been adults during the war. My mother was personally acquainted with many young men her age who had died. And my father, who was older still, considered himself lucky to have been exempted for service.
And as for me, I considered war to be “long ago and far away.” I was a teenager otherwise concerned with teenage things. And like many others of my age and rank––no pun intended––I rolled my eyes at the sight of soldiers on parade grounds; at cenotaphs; and wreathes; and poppies; at the sound of 21-gun-salutes, or at the sound of troops being called to attention. They reminded of one of my old junior-high-school classmates, a brash young Navy cadet who wore his ridiculous brushcut––or so we thought––as a badge of honour, and thought nothing of those who openly mocked him whenever he worse his bright black military boots to school, and stomped around the hallways.
I remember a local man who had lost a leg during the war, and always made an appearance at the cenotaph, together with his old comrades. He had this strange sunken-in-face which I’ll never forget:––a face which suggested that he had not only suffered the loss of a limb, but the loss of much else too. One is careful not to stare openly, of course, but I noticed how quickly he looked down if you ever locked eyes with him.
Remembrance Day? I just wanted to forget. After all, “sometimes we survive,” writes Craig Rosenberg, not by remembering, but “by forgetting.” Bill Clinton, it is said, always had, among everything else that he brought to the discharge of his presidency, “the power to forget.” And by this, he survived its very darkest moments: (moments, of course––if you know the story––of his own making). Mr. Clinton had the “glorious gift of a bifurcated mind.” Whenever something bad happened, he simply moved it to another place. By compartmentalizing, by making the conscious unconscious, by forgetting.
Sigmund Freud called forgetting, or repression, a “defense mechanism,” and a handy one at that. It enabled one to handily repress the difficult or unpleasant, and removes it from conscious thought: “a process, wrote he, “by which unacceptable desires or impulses are excluded from consciousness and left to operate in the unconscious . . .”
I daresay that “forgetting” is one of the trademark habits of the modern age. Haven’t you noticed, that in the glitter and flash of the 21st century, how often we forget who made us,
or to whom our lives are bound? Or when our head heads are turned by attractive, or glittering, or desperately interesting people, (how often) we forget to whom we are married? Or when we grow frustrated, or angry, or tired, or distracted, (how often) we forget about the kindness, and goodness of others, so quick we are to demonize them.
The humans that we are, we simply forget about the sacrifices our parents made. We forget about why we go to church, or why we pray; we forget why we go to work, or why we had children. We forget how it could be that life is so worth living, the gift of God for the people of God. In other words, how soon and how deeply, we forget about what is really important––and why.
“Most things are forgotten over time,” writes Haruki Murakami. “Even the war itself––the life-and-death struggle people went through––is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about everyday, too many new things we have to learn. But still, no matter how much time passes; no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They are to remain with us forever, like a touchstone.”
And yet, in whatever we forget, or put away; or repress; or send to oblivion, God remembers, God remembers: and commends us to the same, that we would remember too. He really does. God remembers, while we forget. God hopes, while we despair.
God loves, while we forsake.
“There is nothing concealed,” said Jesus, “that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Not one of them is forgotten by God!! Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
God’s remembering is such that he has not only numbered every hair upon our heads
But he has taken to heart, every loss; He has taken to mind, every sacrifice; He has taken to cherish every good intention, every right act and right intention he has taken to himself, not to mention every soul that has looked to him with love.
“In your struggle against sin,” writes the author of Hebrews, “you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood, though you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons and daughters. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. God is not unjust; he will NOT forget your work, and the love you have shown him, as you have helped his people––and continue to help them.”
“Be careful,” The Book of Deuteronomy reads, in no uncertain terms, “and watch yourselves closely: so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. In fact, teach them to your children, and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember it is LORD your God, who gives you the ability to produce wealth,
What is the word of the Lord to us, this Remembrance Day?
To remember, as God remembers. To walk with the lonely. To uplift the broken-hearted. To recognize goodness, and commend sacrifice. To give thanks for laid down lives, and be ready to undertake the same yourself. After all, “Greater love has no one than this, said Jesus, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Persevere, and do not grow weary in remembering––not forgetting!!! . . . Persevere, in well-doing, as God’s people….
It’s amazing what even tiny acts of remembrance will do. Remembrance, with kindness.
In February 2018, a young girl from Nova Scotia died of brain cancer. Her name? Becca Schofield. She had battled the cancer for year, but in December learned that it would be terminal. So she got to work penning a bucket list. In other words, a list of things she hoped to do before dying. Principal among them was a very simple request. She asked her thousands of Facebook followers––for thousands they were––to go out and perform random acts of kindness, and post them online under the hashtag “BeccaToldMeTo.”
In a flash, her request went viral. People as far away as Australia were posting their good deeds on social media.
“She was fortunate enough to find clarity, meaning, and purpose during her prolonged journey with brain cancer,” her father Darren wrote in his tribute Tuesday. “How amazing it is to have had a child that has truly reached out and touched the world around us.”
This day, remember all the extraordinary sacrifices made for you. Remember, and do not forget––not just at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day, but always.
Thanks be to God.