In Canada, Remembrance Day is November 11.
At 11 am this morning, my local Tim Hortons shut off the ever-present too-loud radio station for two full minutes, while the patrons one-by-one put their coffees down, stilled their conversations, and stood, in silence. The staff told us cheerfully when it was time to get back to work, and back to relaxing.
Two minutes of silence, for the untold numbers of young people who put themselves in direct danger for a cause bigger and at times I’m sure more inscrutable than they could fully fathom. In war we are all too young, I think, though I know literally nothing about serving in that way, I am only a beneficiary, one of so many.
What can I possibly say about war, and the people whose lives it claims in some way or another? I’ve not fought in one, and lost no one close to me as a result.
My parents – the “boomers” (which I have been told is a term many of them no longer appreciate hearing!) came along at the end of the last big war, but war has never ceased, it seems, for even a moment.
In places the war turned cold, in others it stayed hot. Out of no disrespect for any veteran, or friend or family member of one or more, I know we were not meant to fight one another forever. We started it seems at war with our surroundings, at odds with the Earth itself. This was only after we started to see ourselves as “We”, maybe. Before then, we were just nature itself.
But then there were individuals and then families and tribes, coalitions and kingdoms… empires. Borders grew into one another, scarce resources fought for, lineages grappling with each other for dominance, or security, or posterity… divine favour even. I don’t know this stuff either – ask your local historian or philosopher or theologian , I’m pretty sure I’ve got the gist of it, but am no doubt missing most of the story.
We don’t get along very well, even in 2019. Whatever you think of the state of our planet, and to what degree we owe it to be cautious how we tread now, I think you might agree that for the bunch of us to move into some new way of being (and we most certainly can do so), we will at some point need to spend less time and energy fighting each other, and more of it facing forward, toward a long stay here on this rock, until we can safely step into space, and out into the stars.
Do we deserve to land on Mars, when we cannot manage our own footprint here first? Should we spend any effort heading into space when we still wrestle directly and indirectly with each other for resources and privileges we could just as easily co-manage, like a real inter-planetary civilization must certainly learn to do? Are we expecting to suddenly be peaceful, once a significant number of us are living elsewhere in our solar system, or beyond? Why would we simply and naturally leave our guns behind, when at home they are still fired with frightening frequency?
Do you find these stupid questions to be asking? I certainly don’t.
This day, we were reminded – ever so briefly – that we got where we are in part upon the backs of those who put themselves in front of bullets for us. As we mix and mingle in this increasingly connected world (how many languages I hear on the bus into town! A curious kind of music, bringing both uncertainty and great hope), we must start to recognize we have been bombing our own selves, and shooting at our own neighbours, traumatizing our own family. An alien watching us from the far side of our moon would not see an advanced civilization, but a rather primitive one – but perhaps one with hope yet. Would they consider us worthy of stepping off this planet before we had learned to begin to live peacefully and sustainably upon it? Would you?
I do not want to do a single disservice to any person in uniform, whether their home lay close to mine, or far away. The people in the literal and proverbial trenches rarely if ever are the same ones who order the trenches to be dug in the first place- but they are the souls who go there, willingly or not, to fight the battles, righteous or otherwise. I believe in their cause: for a better world for their families – our families. We argue still about how to best define that, and how best to fight for it. It should not always involve killing.
Maybe we are not done yet growing, but I do hope we are still growing, and that we are able to do it enough, in time for our next and much bigger steps.