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I can remember the excitement of people gathering to march in parades, a holiday atmosphere, as we celebrated Veterans’ Day when I was young. There was a special note of appreciation since we had just come through a world war, a major life-changing event in my young life. Too young to serve in the military, we were yet called to serve in whatever way we could. Mostly, it was serving by sacrifice.
As a grammar school youngster, I participated in saving aluminum foil from gum wrappers, wrapping twine into huge balls, gathering mounds of newspapers, with each grade in competition with others for the largest bundles of all. Sugar was rationed, so bubble gum became more than a treat. It was a prize to be unwrapped and shared, according to the generosity of the owner, who gained great popularity to boot.
In short, we learned the power of remembering. Remembrance became more than a recall of past events. It was a revering of all that had been and a deepening gratitude for the present day, the present reality of life. We were being “re-membered.” We were being put together as a new and, hopefully, more human and humane people. We were also becoming veterans of wartime deprivation, veterans of loss but also of gain. We were participating in our nation’s effort to attain and maintain peace and justice.
It is a good, a holy and wholesome thing, to remember these events. It is good to recall that war, like peace, touches all of us in several ways. Some may be subtle; others quite overt. We are all veterans of the battles we engage with each other, as well as the attempts we make to secure serenity.
When we remember, we bring our trials and efforts into the present moment. Bringing them into the light of today’s joys and sorrows also increases our awareness that all skirmishes become unnecessary when we learn how to communicate with each other. When we are veterans of nonviolence, the world is transformed. Justice happens and peace is an everyday reality.
When we recall the various episodes in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we clearly see the harm done by violent action. Those in power ask loaded questions to trip him up. They try to use the law against him. They follow him as closely as the crowds who are eager to hear his word, to learn from him, to join in his nonviolent search for justice. But their proximity to this itinerant preacher seems to have a different effect. Warring appears to be the only method they can or will use to remain fixed in their opinions, their understanding of law, their prejudices and biases.
Instead of remembering the past to learn from it, they choose to solidify certain elements of history and use them to punish others. It is a battle fatigue that enervates and will not allow growth.
We have choices. We can use our memories to as nurture for the present and thrusting power for the future. We can decide, conclusively, not to repeat the mistakes we have made–individually, communally, as families and nations. Surely, new errors will find their way into our lives. Our human imperfection will not miraculously disappear; however, awareness of our need to allow God to perfect us will increase exponentially.
That’s what veterans are all about. They are men and women whose awareness of battlefield dangers has honed their desire not to be a warring people. At the same time, they know that battles do not go away. To face injustice is to fight. The question is how this is to be done.
As I type these words, images pop into my head. I can hear parents cautioning their children. “Use your indoor voice.” “Use your words.” Veterans of the pain, anger, hostility, and the futility of raised outdoor voices and fists employed rather than words...parents do not want their children to repeat those actions. They do not want them to suffer the slings and arrows of inhumanity. Instead, their desire is to that their offspring will find a better mode of communication and live in a better world.
So, what can we do? How can we embrace a flawed world with loving arms? In what ways can we broaden and deepen the idea of peace until it becomes the shalom, the wholesome holiness, of God’s creation and God’s desire?
I guess we can start by remembering the times when we tasted that kind of holy peace in our own lives. We can recall the days when weapons were cast down and fighting ended. We can call to mind the joyousness that pervaded the land because humans were no longer battling each other. We can praise the Lord without passing any ammunition save the ammunition of compassion, understanding, acceptance, and cooperative living.
It’s a start. It’s not a conclusion. It’s neither a panacea nor a denial of the evils we inflict upon ourselves and others. However, we have to begin somewhere, sometime. When we have an annual remembrance of those who battled for us, an annual celebration of their courage, stamina, and national pride, it would be a shame to forget. It would be a shame to relegate our thankfulness solely to flag flying and parades when we have so much more to consider.
I propose a new salute to veterans of all types. I suggest we offer our gratitude and appreciation by honoring the history each of us bears. I suggest we listen to our personal “war stories” and pay attention to the positive messages lie beneath the words and between the lines. My hope is that the attentiveness, the outstretching of hearts and minds, will somehow positively affect our hurting world. My hope is that we who are veterans of pain and sorrow, joy and laughter, will be the wounded healers whose love will be a means of transformation.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, let us lift up our prayers and reach down to help those who have fallen prey to cynicism and negativity. Let’s believe our faith will bring lasting peace.