Friday, November 12, 2010

Remembrance of the past...and hope for another way.

With tall cedars gently swaying, the south-easterly blowing in from over the Salish Sea, we stood before the Gabriola Island Memorial remember. For a small island more known for artists, artisans, and free spirit, than it is for old soldiers, there was a very large number of folks who respectfully gathered together for this event.

Located in front of the RCMP Detachment, the cairn was the focal point for our reflections and our quiet remembering. In the context of why we gathered, it was also a time of commitment to finding ways for peaceful resolution to conflicts in this world - so that one day, there might no more be war and conflict. It was a very moving service, much fuller in content than I have seen for some time, and I have, for many years, officiated at Remembrance Day services, both as a military chaplain and as a parish minister.

For all who stood in the steady rain together, the occasion touched a place within our hearts and souls. I am always glad when my heart is touched...for it is proof that I am a vulnerable human being. And it is in our experienced and expressed vulnerability, that we are open to one another and, therefore, to hope for the future.

When I became a chaplain with the Canadian Forces, I remember some sense of surprise from some quarters. "Why would I leave the ministry to do this?"  I never left the ministry. I accepted the opportunity to minister to men and women in uniform, and to their families. I quickly discovered that those who served were no different than anyone else I'd been honoured to serve with in the civilian world. None desired war, for they had the most to lose. Many of these dedicated individuals were called to long periods of separation and missions fraught with risk.

Over the years, I served in both the Air and Land Force Command. I served as chaplain to 410 and 441 Tactical Fighter Squadrons (F-18s) in Cold Lake, 444 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (Germany) and Army postings including the 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (Germany) and the 5th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in Valcartier, Quebec. Our son also served, as an infantry soldier with the Princess Patricia's, and deployed to the other side of the world on one of the most difficult missions in modern times.

So, yes, as for many Gabriola islanders there today, our remembering was personal.

When we remember, we make present events of the past. Perhaps poet and philosopher George Santayana said it best, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." There are many past events we must not repeat. Put another, way, there is much that we much change about the way we do things together as human beings. We must set aside matters that we allow to divide us and come to understand ourselves as a human family. We may not always get along but we must seek the best for one another. We must understand that only in sharing with one another can we create an equitable world where all have the opportunity to live and participate fully. Many of us must be satisfied with less so that all can have sufficient to live with health, and hope, and confidence for the future. It would be difficult to understand why anyone would not want this to be so. Justice does not mean "just us".

Is there a requirement for a military, beyond the need for some agency in our country to provide domestic assistance and support as an aid to civil power? Although, some would argue the point, I believe there are times when we must say "no" to behaviour that threatens peace and the most fundamental of human rights, even if the event is far from home. The world elected to do nothing in Rwanda in 1994. The consequences of that inaction was terrible beyond words.

But in the Gabriolan wind and rain, in the closeness of this special community, there was no glorification of war. Rather, we remembered the cost of war, the treasured gift of freedom, and the fact that we need to find ways to create together, a peace-filled world, for all people everywhere.

I think that kind of world is possible. The alternative is surely not something we could ever embrace.



  1. Well said....I am touched by the paragraph about being one human family....let us hope and pray that someday this world will be a better place for all.

  2. I think you're correct, and it is very complex. We need to do better. And we need also to believe that we can.

  3. Thanks L and Robbie for your thoughts. Yes, we must do better...and we will. D.

  4. Very touching. Like L, I was moved with the paragraph of being one Human Family. I hope that their will eventually be peace on earth and that this world would be a better place for all.

  5. Thanks J, yep, lots of work for us all to do. But hey, so long as we're "barefootin'", we'll be having fun!