Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rememberance and faith

Yesterday, I stood with a crowd of people in the center of Toronto, at the cenotaph by the Old City Hall. We stood in silence awaiting the hour: the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when ninety years ago, the guns fell silent. As the notes from the bell in the old city hall clock faded, a bugle played the haunting notes of last post, and a flight of four Harvard trainers passed overhead, just over the tall buildings of downtown Toronto. As the passed us, one pitched up and made a climbing turn westward, in that most moving of all aviation displays, the missing aviator formation.

I thought of memory, and how the custom of sounding horns in honour of the fallen probably dates back to pre-Christian times, when my forbears honoured Arawn, the hunter of the dead, consort of the Great Mother. I thought of the wheel of time. I thought, too, of this. Both my grandfathers took part in the Great War. They returned after the armstice, and eleven years after the eleventh day of the eleventh month came the birth of my parents. And politicians let go of the promise that my grandfathers had endured the mud and the horror and the death to end all wars, and Hitler plunged the world into another war even worse than the Great War. And eleven years after that war, my parents welcomed me into the world.

And I thought of this too: that if we continue to permit war, accept war, then we do not merely break faith yet again with those men who, ninety years ago, fought to end all wars. We break faith even more terribly with our children, because unless we make an end to war, they have no future. For our society has developed the means to destroy itself, and we know that, soon or late, those means will fall into the hands of someone in the throes of dark pain and hopelessness, or of unthinking belief. They will come, in other words, to someone who will use them. And then we shall have no civilization, and the Earth will no longer support it inhabitants, and if anyone survives, they will count themselves less fortunate than the dead.

Therefore, let us never dare remember the sacrifice without the promise that prompted it. Every day we let by without looking for a way to keep the promise given to those millions of suffering men, those ninety years and more ago, we break faith anew.

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