We are getting close to one of the most sacred holidays of the year. There are those who would claim that it is the most sacred day of all, and I wouldn’t argue too much with them. The greatest of all Christian commandments — echoed in some other great religions — tells us to love each other as ourselves. And then the crowning glory to that exhortation states it simply and for all time:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.”
There were many men and women in two Great Wars and many more regional conflicts since who have made what we correctly call “the supreme sacrifice” — giving their lives for the rest of us.
I almost hesitate to use that term because inadvertently, I know, it seems to leave out those who were willing to make that sacrifice but were spared to come back to home and loved ones again.
These are our veterans and I hold them in the same awe as those who, like my Uncle Ed, were called upon to die.
Every community has them, although as the song says about veterans’ parades On Remembrance Day, “Someday no one will march there at all.” We honour them as we should, and teach our children to treat them with the deepest respect.
Springdale lost another one of ours not long ago. I don’t think his family would mind me mentioning his name. Cyril Pelley was one of those intrepid and fearless individuals who fought the last world war in the air. He was a bigger-than-life character at home as he was in an aircraft. Fortunately, he survived to raise a great family and to play a prominent role in the life of this community and the province.
I don’t know why — I didn’t have much to do with him on a daily basis — but I had enormous respect for him as a person as well as a veteran, and regarded him as a friend. I like to think he felt the same way about me.
Perhaps you think I speak of my uncle too often, but I can’t apologize for that. When he saw me for the only time on the first day of my life before he left to join the Royal Navy, he requested that all six pounds of me be named after him. It’s an honour I carry that can be equaled by no other.
I don’t think I ever mentioned it before, but the only son my Uncle Ed ever had was called Alex, the name of his older brother, my father.
Whenever I think of it, my blood boils, as one reader of last week’s column wrote me today, “It” being the fact that the federal government is in the process of closing down several Veterans Affairs offices in our area. Where in God’s name do they get the colossal gall to so insult those men and women who fought so that politicians could hold the positions they have and thus abuse the responsibility of caring for them. Perhaps you think I’m saying too much about that as well.
Christians believe that the death of Christ was meant to show us “a more excellent way,” the way of loving your neighbour, not hating your enemy, not despising those who believe differently from you. The deaths of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., among many others, also served to emphasize that idea.
Closer to home
And yet in the intervening centuries since Jesus gave voice to those new ideas in his day, we are still hating and killing each other as though no one has ever said them or believed them. We don’t need to confine that indictment of the human race to conflict among nations or to Iraq or Afghanistan, or to what one poet called “man’s inhumanity to man” in other parts of the world.
Much closer to home we find beatings and assaults and murders committed out of greed and jealousy and obsession.
I know the reasons for these things aren’t easily understood or simply stated, but surely they have roots in our failure over the generations and across the nations to “teach our children well” or “to have them grow in the way they should grow and when they are old they will not depart from it.” It seems that the philosophy of peace and goodwill was doomed to failure from the beginning, that as Longfellow wrote, “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, goodwill to men.”
It makes us wonder what the formula for achieving that kind of love among humankind should be. The voice of Christianity?
Not if the terrible bloodbaths of the Crusades, or the cruelty of slavery (which the Bible was used to justify), or the terrible abuses of children by Christian clergy has taught us anything.
The example set by people such as Gandhi in other religions? They seem to have been as weak as the others in convincing people that non-hatred and non-violence is a better way.
Even those of us who claim to be followers of peace and goodwill are often so steeped in prejudice and judgment against those who do not agree with us that we wonder what faith it is we are following.
In our churches, we pray mightily for peace and justice all over the world, but we despair that things seem to be getting worse and not better.
Is it possible that we should be spending at least as much time working for those ideals?
If you look around your community, chances are you can find still more opportunities for outreach and inclusion among those who need it most.
It will be a long time before peace does reign and men and women are not suffering at the hands of each other. But perhaps every little thing you can do, every little step we can take will shorten that time for others.
Perhaps we should also remember that on this Remembrance Day.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.