I became a pacifist before I became a teenager. It happened when we lived in Germany, 10 years after the end of the second World War. The scars from those days were obvious everywhere… we were both nervous and curious about the bunkers in the farmers’ fields, the small cemeteries that we came upon as we rode through the Black Forest, the burned out, half-destroyed villages and the anxiety in the eyes of many Germans, the angst that we felt against their occupiers.
But there were two specific events that “turned” me. The first was a visit to a concentration camp… I remember getting out of the bus, and not being able to move, barely able to breathe. I wanted to faint away, to get away. The pain, the voices from the past, the screams of anguish, and the deep, black fear hung in the air like the deadly gasses that were used inside the gates. It was a relief to know that our teachers didn’t expect us to enter… after an hour or so of milling around the bus, we gathered ourselves together and left. The silence on the return trip was palpable.
The second event was more personal. Our entire school got involved in gathering supplies for a local refugee camp that had recently filled to capaciy as the Communist Bloc pushed its agenda on Eastern Europe. Hungary was in revolt and thousands of people were forced out of their homes – and their lives. I was one of the students selected to deliver our donation and was honoured with a tour. I will never forget the faces, the shaking hands reaching out to touch mine, hundreds of faces, grateful, yet tearful, trying to laugh and smile, despite the fact that whole families were forced to live in a 12X12 space with only blankets for walls. Their courage was as evident as their suffering. I could only stand in awe at what they had given up to hold onto their freedom.
It is interesting to me that even though my father made his career in the Canadian Air Force, he too was and is a pacifist. A conundrum? Not really. While American soldiers are freedom-fighters, Canadians are peace-makers…. and this was the message I grew up with. with great purpose, we were exposed to the consequences of war and encouraged to remember and value the sacrifices our own parents were making to change the past, to create a peaceful world where we are all free to choose our own paths. And so I have a great respect for the military, for the warriors of this planet.
Remenbering is useful… we can learn from the past, the past teaches us to break old patterns; and forgiving the past releases us to be present for the future. In remembering we honour those who make our todays possible, we change as a result of what we learn from them. Remembering, we pray, leads us to one day create a world where all can live in harmony, respectful of our differences, appreciative of our role as planetary caretakers.
On this Remembrance Day, then, I urge each of you to remember and honour the warriors of the past… and in so doing to remember and honour also the warrior in you, to remember that we must be brave as we press forward in life. We must be willing to stand for “something”. We must each take on the role of spiritual warrior, in this time of transformation especially, to be willing to fight for Love and Truth, Joy and Creativity!