We had a wonderful bonfire last Friday, I hope you were able to be there or perhaps you heard about it. The community gathering together at a moment in time is always a special moment. Guy Fawkes Night is not a ‘thing’ where I grew up, perhaps for some very obvious historical and religio-political reasons. But that aside, the community gathering to remember is very significant. Yesterday the community gathered for a very different remembrance. It is one of those more solemn occasions in our calendar and rightly so.
The act of remembering brings people together across time and space into a collective. It is a way of making present those who cannot be there. In the Christian community, church or the ‘ecclesia’ is the community over time not just those gathered in the building. Our service was shared within and outside the grounds of Embley; parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles extended families and their friends tuned in to share the moment with us as pupils recalled family, circumstance and what it meant for them. The personal approach they took made for an immediacy of empathy which was moving. They explored the nature of loss amongst combatants and non-combatants. In conflict the notion of who wins is challenged by the fact that all lose.
So why remember? Why bring it all to mind over and over? It seems to me there are a variety of reasons. The personal connection and holding the contribution of family through time together in one space unites and makes family complete to some degree. That is pretty obvious. There are lessons to be learned too.
It is one thing to recall the events, the individuals and the things they did, but their reason is the most sublime. It is one thing to do something for those we know and love, but to pay the ultimate price for those we do not know and have not yet been born seems beyond that.
The past leaves many legacies, not all of them wholesome and many we spend lifetimes undoing. But the legacy of sacrifice for a cause bigger than oneself, that issues forth in freedoms and peace for others, is a legacy we inherit and a debt we owe. I wonder how well we are doing in repaying it? I suspect the selflessness of their sacrifice would be appalled by the overwhelming egocentricity of our current time. But even this is not universally true.
The generation of children who have lost a year at school and sacrificed that time for those who were more vulnerable challenges that received wisdom. The generation of those who are taking up arguments to protect our environment and challenge existing structures; the generation that value inclusivity and extend the warm hand of friendship to diversity are worthy inheritors of that legacy.
We remember so that we might keep loved ones in mind; we remember to learn lessons from what has gone before and we remember that as the echoes of the Last Post fade and the day pushes on with its own relentless endeavour, that in the midst of all our busyness we don’t lose sight of what that legacy might mean for each one of us.
Cliff Canning, Headmaster, Embley (@EmbleyHead)