Next Friday in regimented moments of silence the nation will come together to remember all those who in a growing number of conflicts paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for the love of other. For the diminishing few who were alive during the Second World War this year’s reflections will have an added poignancy not least because a mainstay of connection will be absent following the death of Elizabeth the Queen. But perhaps an even more acute resonance is because we are remembering at a time when Europe is once again witnessing the barbarity of war and the evil which is humanity’s hatred of others. How little we remember.
Anyone who has been following the images from Ukraine will know well the horrors that tens of thousands have and are still enduring. You will call to witness the thousands of men, women and children who have had to flee to find rest and rescue in other nations of Europe including Scotland. It is beyond comprehension that in the 21st century we are watching on our television screens scenes of destruction and bombing resonant with those of the 1940s. How little we remember.
I suspect like many of my age who have not known war directly I have often asked of others the question as to why with such distance of time we still remember in formal gatherings. I’ve answered that query in part because of a personal need to pay tribute to those in my own family who fought and in some cases died in war, even if known only to me by name and story. But the older I get the more convinced I become of the importance of remembrance both as a collective act of solidarity and of commitment but also as something which needs to with ever greater energy become part of the rhythm of our togetherness. The act of remembering is an act of loving.
So what is it on Friday and every day that as individuals and as a community we should seek to remember and to piece together from the fragments of our feelings inside our hearts and minds?
That’s always going to be an individual response but for me at this time and in this place where priorities seem so skewed and when fear is so prevalent amongst the old and ill, those in my world who work in and receive social care supports – remembering has to be about active loving.
Remember as we silently stand the lives of those shut in by fear of not being able to pay their bills and who risk coldness and worsening health.
Remember all those working in homecare and care home, who try every day to soothe the hard memories of confusion and distress for those whose worlds dementia has shrunk.
Remember all who are sitting looking at an empty chair because love and togetherness has died and a routine of echoing sadness fills their home and days.
Remember those going without food today because they have chosen to feed their child or clothe their neighbour.
Remember those across our nation who have called our streets their place and our homes their hearth but whose love and loves are in a Ukrainian or foreign shore.
Remember those who feel no one knows their pain, hears their story or cares about their living.
Remembering is empty and is an action of avoidance unless it is accompanied by a focus to make memory real and to change the reality of pain. So as we remember let us focus with a renewed vigour on creating a tomorrow worthy of remembering.
Joy Haribo was appointed the United States poet laureate in June 2019, and is the first Native American poet laureate in the history of the position. She is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation and belongs to Oce Vpofv. Drawing on both her upbringing and cultural knowledge and studies Harjo’s life and poetry is grounded in the natural world and by a strong emphasis on the spiritual. She uses native chants and prayers in her poetry which evidences both a desire to memorialise and as a call to action for the creation of an environmental and human justice. One of my favourite Harjo poems is ‘Remember’ which calls us to recognise and rejuvenate with the connectedness of our belonging to the natural and relational world around us. Remembering has to be an act of loving.
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.