There’s a red poppy on my table. There’s a red poppy on every table, and in every gentleman’s lapel. It is Remembrance Sunday, but I have to ask the store clerk what exactly this nation is remembering. She graciously informs me that Britain remembers all war conflicts on the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice, which is the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month-an auspicious anniversary indeed. As I make my coffee run, I see a notice that even Starbucks will stop all service for two minutes at precisely 11:00. I woke up entirely unaware that today had any particular significance, but I am now overwhelmed with the weight of the day.
Today is also Veteran’s Day back home. Prior to this trip, I never gave Veterans Day much thought, apart from as a day to honor my grandfather who served as a medic in the Korean War. But having seen so many war memorials in the last three months puts it into a new perspective. An ocean apart, a bittersweet holiday is remembered.
Family photos of my grandfather circa 1950. He served in the Korean War, but family knowledge is inconclusive as to whether he was a conscientious objector. He served for two years before returning to Bemidji and starting the amazing family that now surrounds me.
I see more elderly men around town today than I have all week. I wonder how many of them remember their fathers and how many remember their friends and fellow solders. There are many who wear medals and sashes today. I don’t understand the complexity of representation of each garment, but I admire those who have the courage to serve and am pleased that this service has drawn a large crowd of solidarity.
Here is a shot of the historic cathedral from last night. This is approximately 600 steps from the front door of our lodging, and I have been spending as much time as possible here this week.
Our service today was led by the Reverend Joseph Moesel, who served as an active army chaplain for the last 20 years. He reminded us that “Those who experience war are those most ardent in establishing peace”, and the real “architects of war” are those who fail to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV). The a capella chanting of a verse of “For the Fallen” by Lawrence Binyon felt as though it had been recorded from a war funeral, although the choir of children sang it yards away from me.
When the congregants rose to sing the national anthem, I felt a moment of conflict: was it my place to sing the anthem of a nation I am not a citizen of? But “God Save the Queen” is less a patriotic battle cry and more a blessing of a ruler, a sentiment that transcends citizenship.
The solemnity of the day is a testament to the scars on the global psyche, and I am reminded of the regrown trenches of Albert. When we visited Albert, the gaping craters had grown into soft valleys, almost appearing as places of rest. A similar thing has happened in the minds and hearts of British citizens. Holidays such as Remembrance Sunday have allowed craters of grief and rage to be mended into scars, honored and acknowledged but no longer an immediate tragic apocalypse. I went back to Salísbury for Evensong and the reverend spoke on the balance of remembering the past while imagining a better future.
I have grown accustomed to an “ordinary Sunday” Anglican liturgy, but today’s emphasis on peacemaking and remembering our fallen soldiers was a rare and precious experience, if not an entirely pleasant or joyous one. I’ve lived through many Veteran’s Day celebrations in America, but only now do I begin to comprehend the weight of the sacrifice we honor. It was a privilege to bear witness to a sacred tradition and honor my family in the process.
Bon Voyage 🌺 🏴 E