My parents were children during the Second World War, and their memories of that time were lasting ones. They recalled doing paper and scrap drives with their pals, wearing underwear that had buttons instead of elastic, and the incredible gift of a pound of fresh butter from relatives who lived on a dairy farm nearby. They also remembered their friends’ older brothers who went to war and didn’t make it home. So many promising lives lost. So many hearts broken.
Because I heard these stories often, they are part of me, too. That is the power of stories. Even when the direct links with the war are gone as the generations involved fade away, the stories live on. We remember.
A few years ago, I visited Berlin in early November. In that city, and in others, small brass plaques set into the cobblestones serve as memorials to Jewish people who were taken from their homes by the Nazis during the Second World War and later killed. Their names, along with their birth and death dates, quietly proclaim their absence and their humanity. Volunteers can be found on their knees polishing the plaques at this time of year – an act of humility, mourning and respect. It’s incredibly poignant to watch. The people who are left remember. Some evenings, a small candle and a flower are placed by each plaque, reminding passersby that each life has meaning and value. Each story deserves to be told, year after year.
Remembrance Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made by the countless Canadians who have served our country in times of war, conflict and peace. Seeing the veterans’ faces on the TV coverage of the sombre ceremony in downtown Ottawa always does me in – after all these years, they still weep. We weep with them. This day is also a reminder that as Christians, we are called to be peacemakers: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
This Remembrance Day, listen to the stories of those who fought for peace and for our freedom. Share the stories with others. Wear a poppy. Honour a Canadian veteran. Light a candle against the darkness and say a prayer, such as this one from the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario. Do something that spreads peace in your family or community. It’s up to us now.
Lest we forget. Nous nous souviendrons d’eux.
–Anne Louise Mahoney, Managing Editor, Novalis