Posts Tagged ‘#remembranceday’

Silence …

That is the most powerful part of a Remembrance Day service, for me. When I and those around me submit collectively to our thoughts about this day, it’s significance, those souls for whom the day honors.

In my thoughts, I will drift to my own children, thankful they have not been forced to decide upon such a high risk commitment. I will drift to those in ages past, within my family, who answered such a call … and the price that generations since have paid, for traumas unattended. Then, as if something visceral leads my eyes, I look around the cenotaph for those who have served … often frail, wrinkled … those standing often utilizing every bit of energy left within them … as if standing, not for their own memories, not for their own honor, but for those whose lives were snuffed out … in front of them.

There is a song I hear, often in our home. A song of commitment to one’s country. A song of honor to those who have gone before, who sacrificed their best, their own breath, for country. Not the place, for that is just sod and biology, but for the souls who make a country living, whole.

They did not die without reason. Nor did they die for a nation who imperfectly, embarrassingly has been corrupt in it’s treatment of others (Aboriginal, women, disabled, ‘different that us’).

They died for what we as a nation can be!
They died for the possibilities.
They died in an act of love.

For love is not about the one being loved, but the commitment of the lover to love without limit.

The beautiful, haunting hymn, A Vow to Thee My Country, was originally called, Urbs Dei (“The City of God”). It is a love song of allegiance to Two Fatherlands (another title for the original poem).

The first stanza focusing on a very Remembrance Day theme of loyalty to one’s earthly home (country).

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

The second stanza, focusing on the source of such national love, that City of God. This stanza is the glue that keeps all expressions and commitments to love in focus. It speaks of the perfect peace found within her fortress walls, with the very King of this city. It is a place … but, not just a location, for it is a place one can be while on the battlefields … of war, of life. For the City of God can be with us, if we vow to her King.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

And, in true Gustav Holst form, his composition (from his piece called Jupiter) provides measured moments of near silence for the depth of the words to be digested into your soul.

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:16


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At the funeral of Sister Margaret Lowe, 1918

Today, as Canadians, we remember those who gave their lives and youth in service to their country, their communities and to the pursuit of peace in other countries, around the world, in various conflicts in odd … virtual services of remembrance due to the pandemic.

It is not something I can personally understand, the idea of leaving the safety of my home, family and community to travel into an unfamiliar place filled where one’s life could be snuffed out at any time.

I wonder if I would be so selfless.

Military members and numerous volunteers have been, and continue to be so selfless.

One group of individuals who have given in times of conflict and world struggle are nurses.

Predominantly (but not exclusively) women, these nurses who cared for the wounded in field hospitals and even close to the front, risking and even losing their lives in their service.

Days that were long and resources that were often short was their wartime nursing norm. In a place of the horrors, fear and death all around them, they had to have steady hands, clear minds and the ability to dole out what must have seemed a daydream … encouragement and hope.

There are countless stories of servicemen in WW1 and WW2 who credit their lives to nurses who cared for them after injuries. They tell of having rediscovered their desire and purpose for living from the steady, patient and encouraging voice of one at their bedside, in their darkest hours.

This current pandemic is a close-to-home reminder of the selflessness, commitment and sacrifice of those who serve their communities as nurses.

As I bow my head, this Remembrance Day, my thoughts will be specifically, of those who gave in wartime as well as those who continue to do so.

They were young, as we are young,
They served, giving freely of themselves.
To them, we pledge, amid the winds of time,
To carry their torch and never forget.
We will remember them.

We will remember them.

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“They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.”
Robert Laurence Binyon


Tomorrow, Canadians will show respect and honour for our veterans in Remembrance Day ceremonies across the country.

It is an annual pilgrimage for our family to a local cenotaph where we will sing, pray, and remember that freedom has not come freely, or without great loss.

But, loss is not only felt in death.

Many veterans, and their loved ones, have also experienced loss through the suffering of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). This disorder comes about through a traumatic event, which causes psychological injury. Professional treatment is imperative to healing and restoration of health.

According to Veterans Affairs Canada, “for military Veterans, the trauma may relate to direct combat duties, being in a dangerous war zone, or taking part in peacekeeping missions under difficult and stressful conditions.”

PTSD is not new, as it has had many names over the years, including soldier’s heart, shell shock, war neurosis, combat fatigue, and combat stress reaction.

What many, who live with the horrors of this damage, know all too well is that there is also shame attached to the horrors of an invisible moral injury.

Moral injury is “defined as a profound sense of guilt or shame resulting from a perceived moral transgression or sense of disillusionment resulting from an institutional betrayal” and “recovery from moral injury cannot happen in isolation.” Steve Rose

We humans need each other. Those who have suffered injury to their minds, for the sake of peace, of human rights, of freedom need to be shown and told, we remember your sacrifice too.

“Sin has made a great change in the world for the worse,
and Christ will make a great change in it for the better.”
(Matthew Henry Commentary)

May we be the hands and feet of Christ in making a great change in the lives of our hurting veterans.

We will remember all of them!

(This is a repost from 2016)

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remembrance day

Dear Sir (who I never met, and whose name I will never know),

It is that time of year again, as a fellow Canadian citizen, to be thankful and to remember those (such as yourself) who gave their lives, so that I could live my life in freedom.

I have a good life.

I am married, and have three grown children. My youngest just turned eighteen (eighteen … if my son were to have been eighteen in the early 1940s …), and two daughters who are twenty and twenty-five (you might have had a girlfriend, a wife?).

I work in a high school, assisting students to do the best work they can on their assignments and tests (if you had not gone to war, would you have worked a trade? gone to university?).

My husband and I own our home, on which we often spend our time, cleaning or fixing up each spring and summer (did you help your parents on chores around your home growing up?).

My husband coaches community football to young men who are sixteen to eighteen (I wonder, did you play football, or other sports).

I love to garden, and read, and write (what did you like to do in your spare time?).

We are involved in our church …

did you attend church?

did you know the one who gave his life for yours?

the one whose sacrifice of great love mirrored your own.

I need to be honest with you, sir, I live a pretty ordinary life. I have never saved the life of another. I have not invented or discovered a cure for a life-threatening disease. I can be apathetic, sarcastic and down-right lazy at time. I have been known to spend far too much time on frivolous time-wasters like social media and Sudoko.

Was it worth it? You giving your life, so that I could live my days taking your sacrifice for granted?

I am thankful, sir. I am thankful when I hear or read of one, a kindred spirit of yours, who died a hero, stepping in, stepping up to give their life for another. I am thankful when this November 11 day rolls around each year, when the familiar, pin on that red poppy pokes at my arm, when the planes fly over, the songs are sung, the guns fired, the prayers offered and the silence …

Sir, please accept this letter of thanks. Please receive it as a love letter, from one who is undeserving of your sacrifice.

Your friend,



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“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


I grew up in a time which remembered sacrifice, on this day. I grew up in a place that understood peace keeping, as every high school graduating class included students who were to pursue that as their future profession. I have lived in our nations capital, of Ottawa, where the images of sacrifice were all around, and where every school, church and neighborhood had members of Canada’s peace keeping military.

This year, this Remembrance Day, social media has provided visual symbols of remembrance with relevance for today.

IMG_1547.JPGMy favorite image is the one to the left. A visual response by artist, Bruce MacKinnon (The Halifax Chronicle Herald), after the October 22, 2014 killing of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, while standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa. Although I have not seen any similar images, honoring Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was run down, while wearing uniform, in Quebec, I believe that MacKinnon’s image will bring both, and their grieving families, to the minds of all who see it.

We will remember them …

IMG_1541.JPGThe haunting words of John McCrae, and his poem “In Flander’s Fields.” The image of the poppy, representing the continuance of life, after those whose blood was spilled, fighting a foe we are encouraged to continue battling (“take up our quarrel with the foe … if ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep”). We must battle for peace, in word and, if necessary, in deed. Those, who McCrae wrote of, had to battle in deed.

We will remember them …


The Tower of London, bathed in 888,246 ceramic blooms, each representing a lost life in World War I … 100 years ago, when that war began. This work of art is called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.”

We will remember them …

IMG_1540.JPGNovember 11, every year, we have opportunity to remember those who gave their lives, those whose lives were forever changed. Attending a service of Remembrance, watching one on the television or online … taking a moment to be silent, and remember. These are opportunities to honor, not war, but the privilege of living in peace, at the expense of others who have gone before us.

We will remember them …


Our six years of living in Ottawa acquainted me with the honor no mother ever wants, that of being awarded the Silver Cross. This ‘award’ is given to Canadian mothers who have lost a son or daughter in service to this country. The National Silver Cross mother has been chosen to lay a wreath during Canada’s Remembrance Day ceremony, in Ottawa, as a representative of all mothers who have lost a child in service. This year, Gisèle Michaud, whose son. Master Cpl. Charles-Philippe Michaud, was wounded after stepping on an explosive device, in June, 2009, in Afghanistan, is Canada’s Silver Cross Mom.

We will remember them …

IMG_1546.JPGThe image above, of people atop a bank, overlooking a beach, with the image of the soldiers who fought for that beach, for the freedom of going to the beach, has caught my attention this year. I could not find the name of the artist, or of the specific place or story it depicts. Could it be Normany? Dieppe? Does it matter? What is important is that we remember that the freedom we have has been bought by a high cost.

We will remember them …


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We needed divine intervention, something unique and peaceful to quiet my favorite pair of students.

The constant, monsoon rains had created something akin to a state of stir crazy for this pair, and more academics was not the medicine for their (or my) ill. I opted for a rarely used, but very effective, prescription … a story and drawing.

I went to a book that I knew to be ‘safe’ on the library shelf, The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett. A smaller copy has graced the shelves of my own bookcase, and many of it’s tales have been read to, and by, my own kids. The book contains stories, fables, poetry and the like, all focused on teaching a moral. Over the years, I have found that many students, and especially those with special needs are often far more understanding of such stories, that ones told simply for the purpose of entertainment.

The following is the story I read. Credit for the writing of the story was given to Chuck Colson, but it is a true story … it is a redemption story.

As you read this true story, may your heart and mind be as stilled, and inspired as my stir crazed pair that day as we experienced the divine inspiration from one who truly lived fully.

“Maximilian Kolbe was forty-five years old in the early autumn of 1939 when the Nazis invaded his homeland. He was a Polish friar in Niepokalanow, a village near Warsaw. There, 762 priests and lay brothers lived in the largest friary in the world. Father Kolbe presided over Niepokalanow with a combination of industry, joy, love, and humor that made him beloved by the plainspoken brethren there.

In his simple room, he sat each morning at a pigeonhole desk, a large globe before him, praying over the world. He did so, tortured by the fact that a pale man with arresting blue eyes and a terrifying power of manipulation had whipped the people of Germany into a frenzy. Whole nations had already fallen to the evil Adolf Hitler and his Nazis.

“An atrocious conflict is brewing,” Father Kolbe told a group of friars one day after he had finished prayers. “We do not know what will develop. In our beloved Poland, we must expect the worst.” Father Kolbe was right. His country was next.

On September 1, 1939, the Nazi blitzkrieg broke over Poland. After several weeks, a group of Germans arrived at Niepokalanow on motorcycles and arrested Father Kolbe and all but two of his friars who had remained behind. They were loaded on trucks, then into livestock wagons, and two days later arrived at Amtitz, a prison camp.

Conditions were horrible, but nor horrific. Prisoners were hungry, but no one died of starvation. Strangely, within a few weeks the brothers were released from prison. Back at the friary, they found the buildings vandalized and the Nazis in control, using the facility as a deportation camp for political prisoners, refugees, and Jews.

The situation was an opportunity for ministry, and Father Kolbe took advantage of it, helping the sick and comforting the fearful.

While Kolbe and the friars used their time to serve others, the Nazis used theirs to decide just how to impose their will on the rest of Europe. To Adolf Hitler, the Jews and Slavic people were the Untermenschen (sub humans). Their cultures and cities were to be erased and their industry appropriated for Germany. On October 2, Hitler outlined a secret memorandum to Hans Frank, the governor general of Poland. In a few phrases he determined the grim outcome for millions: “The ordinary Poles are especially born for low labor. The Polish gentry must cease to exist. All representatives of one master for the Poles, the German.”

As for Poland’s hundreds of thousands of priests?

“They will preach what we want them to preach,” said Hitler’s memo. “If any priest acts differently, we will make short work of him. The task of the priest is to keep the Poles quiet, stupid, and dull-witted.”

Maximilian Kolbe was clearly a priest who “acted differently,” from the Nazis’ designs.

In early February 1941, the Polish underground smuggled word to Kolbe that his name was on a Gestapo list: he was about to be arrested. Kolbe knew what happened to loved ones of those who tried to elude the Nazis’ grasp: their friends and colleagues were taken instead. He had no wife or children; his church was his family. And he could not risk the loss of any of his brothers in Christ. So he stayed at Niepokalanow.

At nine o’clock on the morning of February 17, Father Kolbe was sitting at his pigeonhole desk, his eyes and prayers on the globe before him, when he heard the sound of heavy vehicles outside the thick panes of his green-painted windows. He knew it was the Nazis, but he remained at his desk. He would wait for them to come to him.

After being held in Nazi prisons for several months, Father Kolbe was found guilty of the crime of publishing unapproved materials and sentenced to Auschwitz. Upon his arrival at the camp in May 1941, an SS officer informed him that the life expectancy of priests there was about a month. Kolbe was assigned to the timber detail; he was to carry felled tree trunks from one place to another. Guards stood by to ensure that the exhausted prisoners did so at a quick trot.

Years of slim rations and overwork at Niepokalanow had already weakened Kolbe. Now, under the load of wood, he staggered and collapsed. Officers converged on him, kicking him with their shiny leather boots and beating him with their whips. He was stretched out on a pile of wood, dealt fifty lashes, then shoved into a ditch, covered with branches, and left for dead.

Later, having been picked up by some brave prisoners, he awoke in a camp hospital bed alongside several other near-dead inmates. There, miraculously, he revived.

“No need to waste gas or a bullet on that one,” chuckled one SS officer to another. “He’ll be dead soon.”

Kolbe was switched to other work and transferred to Barracks 14, where he continued to minister to his fellow prisoners, so tortured by hunger they could not sleep.

By the end of July 1941, Auschwitz was working like a well-organized killing machine, and the Nazis congratulated themselves on their efficiency. The camp’s five chimneys never stopped smoking. The stench was terrible, the the results were excellent: eight thousand Jews could be stripped, their possessions appropriated for the Reich, gassed, and cremated – all in twenty-four hours. Every twenty-four hours.

About the only problem was the occasional prisoner from the work side of the camp who would figure out a way to escape. When these escapees were caught, as they usually were, they would be hanged with special nooses that slowly choked out their miserable lives – a grave warning to others who might be tempted to try.

Then one July night as the frogs and insects in the marshy land surrounding the camp began their evening chorus, the air was suddenly filled with the baying of dogs, the curses of soldiers, and the roar of motorcycles. A man had escaped from Barracks 14.

The next morning there was a peculiar tension as the ranks of phantom-thin prisoners lined up for morning roll call in the central square, their eyes on the large gallows before them. But there was no condemned man standing there, his hands bound behind him, his face bloodied from blows and dog bites. That meant the prisoner had made it out of Auschwitz. And that meant death from some of those who remained.

After the roll call, Camp Commandant Fritsch ordered the dismissal of all but Barracks 14. While the rest of the camp went about its duties, the prisoners from Barracks 14 stood motionless in line. They waited. Hours passed. The summer sun beat down. Some fainted and were dragged away. Some swayed in place but held on; those the SS officers beat with the butts of their guns. Father Kolbe, by some miracle, stayed on his feet, his posture as straight as his resolve.

By evening roll call the commandant was ready to levy sentence. The other prisoners had returned from their day of slave labor; now he could make a lesson out of the fate of this miserable barracks.

Fritsch began to speak, the veins in his thick neck standing out with rage. “The fugitive has not been found,” he screamed. “Ten of you will die for him in the starvation bunker. Next time, twenty will be condemned.”

The rows of exhausted prisoners began to sway as they heard the sentence. The guards let them; terror was part of their punishment.

The starvation bunker! Anything was better – death on the gallows, a bullet in the head at the Wall of Death, or even the gas in the chambers. All those were quick, even humane, compared to Nazi starvation, for they denied you water as well as food.

The prisoners had heard the stories from the starvation bunker in the basement of Barracks 11. They said the condemned didn’t even look like human beings after a day or two. They frightened even the guards. Their throats turned to paper, their brains turned to fire, their intestines dried up and shriveled like desiccated worms.

Commandant Fritsch walked the rows of prisoners. When he stopped before a man, he would command in bad Polish, “Open your mouth! Put out your tongue! Show your teeth!” And so he went, choosing victims like horses.

His dreary assistant, Palitsch, followed behind. As Fritsch chose a man, Palitsch noted the number stamped on the prisoner’s filthy shirt. The Nazis, as always, were methodical. Soon there were ten men – ten numbers neatly listed on the death roll. The chosen groaned, sweating with fear. “My poor wife!” one man cried. “My poor children! What will they do?”

“Take off your shoes!” the commandant barked at the ten men. This was one of his rituals; they must march to their deaths barefoot. A pile of twenty wooden clogs made a small heap at the front of the grassy square.

Suddenly there was a commotion in the ranks. A prisoner had broken out of line, calling for the commandant. It was unheard of to leave the ranks, let alone address a Nazi office; it was cause for execution.

Fritsch had his hand on his revolver, as did the officers behind him. But he broke precedent. Instead of shooting the prisoner, he shouted at him.

“Halt! What does this Polish pig want of me?”

The prisoners gasped. It was their beloved Father Kolbe, the priest who shared his last crust, who comforted the dying and nourished their souls. Not Father Kolbe! The frail priest spoke softly, even calmly, to the Nazi butcher. “I would like to die in place of one of the men you condemned.”

Fritsch stared at the prisoner, No. 16670. He never considered them as individuals; they were just a gray blur. But he looked now. No. 16670 didn’t appear to be insane.

“Why?” snapped the commandant.

Father Kolbe sensed the need for exacting diplomacy. The Nazis never reversed an order; so he must not seem to be asking him to do so. Kolbe knew the Nazi dictum of destruction: the weak and the elderly first. He would play on this well-ingrained principle.

“I am an old man, sir, and good for nothing. My life will serve no purpose.”

His ploy triggered the response Kolbe wanted. “In whose place do you want to die?” asked Fritsch.

“For that one,” Kolbe responded, pointing to the weeping prisoner who had bemoaned his wife and children.

Fritsch glanced at the weeping prisoner. He did look stronger than this tattered No. 16670 before him.

For the first and last time, the commandant looked Kolbe in the eye. “Who are you?” he asked.

The prisoner looked back at him, a strange fire in his dark eyes. “I am a priest.”

“Ein Pfaffe!” the commandant snorted. He looked at his assistant and nodded. Palitsch drew a line through No. 5659 and wrote down No. 16670. Kolbe’s place on the death ledger was set.

Father Kolbe bent down to take off his clogs, then joined the group to be marched to Barracks 11. As he did so, No. 5659 passed by him at a distance – and on the man’s face was an expression so astonished that it had not yet become gratitude.

But Kolbe wasn’t looking for gratitude. If he was to lay down his life for another, the fulfillment had to be in the act of obedience itself. The joy must be found in submitting his small will to the will of One more grand.

As the condemned men entered Barracks 11, guards roughly pushed them down the stairs to the basement.

“Remove your clothes!” shouted an officer. Christ died on the cross naked, Father Kolbe thought as he took off his pants and thin shirt. It is fitting that I suffer as He suffered.

In the basement the ten men were herded into a dark, windowless cell.

“You will dry up like tulips,” sneered one jailer. Then he swung the heavy door shut.

As the hours and days passed, however, the camp became aware of something extraordinary happening in the death cell. Past prisoners had spent their dying days howling, attacking one anther, clawing the walls in a frenzy of despair.

But now, coming from the death box, those outside heard the faint sounds of singing. For this time the prisoners had a shepherd to gently lead them through the shadows of the valley of death, pointing them to the Great Shepherd. And perhaps for that reason Father Kolbe was the last to die.

On August 14, 1941, there were four prisoners still alive in the bunker, and it was needed for new occupants. A German doctor named Boch descended the steps of Barracks 11, four syringes in his hand. Several SS troopers and a prisoner named Brono Borgowiec (who survived Auschwitz) were with him – the former to observe and the latter to carry out the bodies.

When they swung the bunker door open, there, in the light of their flashlight, they saw Father Maximilian Kolbe, a living skeleton, propped against one wall. His head was inclined a bit to the left. He had the ghost of a smile on his lips and his eyes wide open, fixed on some faraway vision. He did not move.

The other three prisoners were on the floor, unconscious but alive. The doctor took care of them first, a jab of the needle into the bony left arm, the push of the piston in the syringe. It seemed a waste of the drug, but he had his orders. Then he approached No. 16670 and repeated the action.

In a moment, Father Kolbe was dead.”

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