Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The White Cliffs of Dover

This Article appeared in the Guardian on November 7.

A few years ago I just happened to be on the beach at Dover, England. It was just meant to be a pleasant tour of that part of the world. Standing on that beach I though about two people. Both men were soldiers in two different wars, but both would have stood on the same beach I was on or at least on one very near to it.

The first was man was my grandfather. He got on a boat during the First World War and fought in France. He lost his right arm. His gentleness, wit and wisdom still impact me today. When I asked him what Christmas was like during the war he humorously quipped, "hard tack and tea." We laughed at his answer until it began to dawn on us what he was really saying about the hardships our soldiers endured in battle.

The second man I though of was a priest I knew who had been a military chaplain during the Second World War. He too had gathered on a beach at Dover to get on a boat to go to France and fight. A few days before they were to depart the order came down that the clergy were not to be among the first to go. It would be several days before my friend would be allowed to join his comrades in France. He told me this story seventy years after the events and I could see the pain and disappointment in his eyes. I knew, as I am sure he knew that he probably would have been killed if he had gone in the first wave of boats and soldiers.

In my ministry I have had the privilege of hearing people talk about their experiences during wartime. I have heard stories about what it is like living in a trench. I have heard stories about the hardships of trying to keep things going at home, with fathers, brothers, sons and husbands away at war. Some veterans have said that they’ve told me stories that they could not tell their families. Some have even said that they made a pact with their comrades never to speak of these things again.

In everyone one of those conversations I’ve had the privilege to be a part of, I have heard the underlying purpose of every soldier. They were fighting for and dying for peace. We can debate all we want about the best methods of achieving peace but there is no doubt that peace was their goal.

Standing on that beach in Dover, England tears rolled down my cheeks as I thought about these two men who have impacted my life, the lives of many others and who were willing to risk their lives in the pursuit of peace.

My hope is that the cause of peace and the sacrifice of way too many people will not have been in vain. As I join many others on Remembrance Day at the cenotaph I will remember the millions of people I never met who paid the supreme sacrifice - for peace. I will also remember the few I have met who were willing to die but who survived and have lived with those painful memories ever since - for peace. But mostly I will stand there with the knowledge that the only really meaningful way to honour the memory of fallen soldiers is to work for peace today. It seems an elusive goal but, as members of the Canadian Forces are in harms way, the cause for peace is just as important today as it ever was.

I believe that God’s desire for us is to be at peace. I believe that we can support our troops and our veterans while we pray for peace, work for peace and demand better from the world’s leaders in achieving peace.

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