When I looked at my own newborn, 21 years ago, I remember being dazzled by how miraculous ‘life’ was. I had made a human being, who would have a character and personality and DNA unique to him. I thought about how many lives each life touches, how many lives my son’s life would touch or change. The miraculous thing that life is, is a mystery and a miracle and on some levels just inexplicable. When I looked at my friend’s newborn today. I was struck again by the sheer amazement that comes from witnessing a brand new life enter the world. Who will she be? Where will she go? What will she change? We are amazing, each one of us, what we do should justify that amazing, miraculous, inexplicable gift, life.
The war is over. This is the news that Sir Winston Churchill conveyed to the world on May 8th, 1945. The allied forces had declared a victory in Europe, but one that came at an enormous cost to them. It was a war felt by all and one that left behind it horrific scars on the collective memory. Horror like the concentration camps of Auschwitz and the death camps of Japan. So many families were left with only memories of those that they had lost, others had to wait and hope for news of loved ones that were listed as missing in action. Amidst all this tragedy and loss there was celebration and relief that the fighting was finished. There was renewed life albeit among struggle. Children continued to be born and grow, families were reunited, life-long friendships were formed and maintained.
Of those that returned from the war, there was little discussion about what had happened, what they had seen. There was evidence of what we would now refer to as survivor guilt and post traumatic stress disorder. There were countless heroes and heroines to be honoured for their acts of bravery, Schindler and Nicholas Winton to name but two. If you’ve any doubt about the impact the war had on those that fought and survived, watch any memorial service where veterans are present. They cry. Seventy years since the end and still, at each memorial or remembrance, they shed a tear. Perhaps they cry for their own experience, perhaps they cry for those that fell, we will probably never know. They, along with the countless thousands who lived through the war, remember the loss and the tragedy but always there is a tale that imbues the spirit. A miraculous escape, a child born among the rubble of a bombsite, a family finally finding the member that was lost to them.
When we think of the war, we should remember all it was, all it changed and all that it brought. In short, we should remember. My own grandfathers and great-uncles served in the war and came home. There were others in my family that did not come home, that were mourned, that were remembered. The war died and in its place grew inspiration, determination and recovery. We should remember all of this.
This year marks seventy years since the end of the World War II. A lifetime to remember so many lifetimes. One of the commemorative events to mark this anniversary was the lighting of several beacons at 9:32pm on 8th May 2015. “Lights that chase away the darkness of war,” I attended one of these lightings at Weald Country Park in Essex. It was little publicised save for a short mention in the Brentwood Gazette and whilst other similar events were more glamorous and more loudly marked, the one at Weald was, in my opinion, perfect. It quietly paid tribute to the end of the war, the many who fell and the seventy years that stretched between that day and today.
In a field stood some small gas cylinders and a small beacon. The rain fell lightly as the night time drew in and blanketed the newly-leafed trees and woodland in darkness. A small row of tea lights were all that alluded to something in the darkness. A solitary bugler played for a moment as representatives from Essex County Council, an Air Cadet group, Eric Pickles and a small collection of others stood quietly. A quiet voice pierced the darkness, not amplified in any way, to deliver a tribute. The flame was lit and the quiet became activity, applause, laughter and group photographs all under the gentle, benevolent light of a flame that leaped and curled from its V shaped origin. A beacon in the darkness, a fitting tribute to commemorate the end of a war.
Lest we forget.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
~ Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
There was something distinctly detached in that chapel; the blazing sunshine and natural life that was outside was silent inside the building. The warmth didn’t penetrate through the high windows despite being able to see the ripples of heat haze, the sadness inside seemed to cool and fill all the available air so that you breathed it and felt it on your skin and in your mind. Saying goodbye to someone is such a hugely devastating occurrence; I’ve been in this building to say goodbye to people that were immeasurably close to me and others that I barely knew. Every single time I felt that overwhelming sadness of a light going out. It emanates from every mourner but mostly from those who feel that gap so greviously. The following poem is therefore based on that feeling, that ‘freezing yet continuing’ of time that occurs during the service. So this is for my friends and family near and far. Feel free to use it if it might convey a meaning for you. May it bring peace and a smile to someone, somewhere.
I have come to say goodbye today,
But as I enter in,
The air closes up around me,
The light in here is dim.
Your body rests upon the plinth,
Encased in wood and gold,
Already you are gone from us,
But your soul will never be old.
The room is full of people,
Who knew you long and short in time,
But time has called an end to you,
In the sand, it’s drawn a line.
I remember you as you once were,
To me, you still just ‘are’,
You live inside my memory,
The thought of you not far.
I wonder if you’re here with us,
If you’re present in this shade,
Released from mortal bonds you are,
But you will never fade.
We say so long and cheerio,
And step out into the sun,
And talk and weep and reminisce,
Of memories and fun.
I came to say goodbye today,
But really it’s ‘see you soon’,
For life is just a moment’s gasp,
A blink, a sun, a moon.
Life’s filled with ups and downs and things,
In our deeds, our purpose clear,
Our love and pride of friends and kin,
The people we hold dear.
So until our paths may cross again,
When the dusk reveals me ready,
From now ‘til then, I honour your wish,
That we are unconquered by grief and remain;
I wholeheartedly condemn what happened in France with the Chelsea fans. What I can’t understand though, is the wider angle of what those people did. They bullied and harassed a man going about his daily business, they treated him as less human than they; less entitled, less. That troubles me. It is reminiscent of the holocaust. Whilst on the surface it is about racism, that label is masking a much deeper, more worrying problem: the differentiation of classes of people and a resulting persecution. Replace ‘black’ with ‘Jewish’ or ‘Polish’ or anyone else that has been persecuted. How different is it now? #bemorehuman
And they crave the flowers,
The chocolates and cards,
They’ve missed the point of Valentines, but that’s not really hard.
The point is in a flirting,
Or a wondering over ‘if’,
Or a genuine gesture that says,
I really like you, could this be it?
So keep your mass made pleasantries,
Put away your elegant wrap,
Give me a message of meaning,
Let’s experience the journey and throw away the map.
I don’t know if it’s the time of year, or the state of the world or just a period of reflection but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the people that won’t be around this Christmas. My missing baubles. So far, I’m missing a father, a brother, a sister, grandfathers and this will be D’s first Christmas without his dad. It will also be D’s mums first Christmas without her husband of fifty-nine years. Tall orders this year. All around me is new life. Friends are carrying their first-borns to be and even this is making me nostalgic for a time when my own child was small and Christmas was a time of magic and reindeer and Santa! A part of me wishes that we could return to those days. That I could take my grown up head and travel back in time to when I was the most important person in the world to him. When money was paper stuff and he preferred coins. When everything he wanted from me had no price tag; he wanted time, hugs, a walk to the park. I’d like to think I’d appreciate those hugs more and that quiet time telling stories with silly voices. I don’t recall the last time I did any of it – did i notice that it had stopped? That he no longer wanted a hug or a bedtime story? Once they’re grown its over but the memory warms my heart still.
This year, I miss the conversations I would have had with my siblings. The phone call my sister would have made on Christmas day to wish us a Happy Christmas despite her disabilities. I miss the hope that one day, Neil would come home and I would get to know him as an adult as my only memories of him are from when I was a child. Wow, I annoyed him something alarming. I feel as if my world is getting smaller. I feel like every year there are less people in it but I look forward to welcoming the new additions that 2015 will bring us, young, old and in between.
So, here’s to a Happy Christmas complete with missing baubles and new ones, waiting to be discovered. I wish you all the same.
I Cannot Change The View
Are you in charge?
Not I, not me, I know,
There’s no medicine for what I’m feeling,
The stabbing sad that makes me low.
Can you tell the rain to stop?
Or make the sunshine blue?
What you ask of me’s the same,
I can’t feel differently for you.
I wish it was a coat I wore,
Or a wound that you could tend,
But the burning scar is in my mind,
It’s hidden far from mend.
This blackest cloak is blinding me,
A voice inside so harsh,
I yearn to feel nothing at all,
I wish for it to pass.
But i feel a thousand shards of ice,
When all you feel is rain,
Your filter differs much from mine,
Although we look upon the same.
So hold your judgement silently,
Til you nail jelly to a tree,
Or capture clouds inside a jar,
Can’t do that? Now you know what it is, to be me.