Short Days Ago
2018 marks a century since the end of the first World War, the Great War, The War to End All Wars. This last moniker, The War to End All Wars, is today often used as an indictment of the state of militarism around the globe. What stood once as the hopeful message to those suffering the trauma of ongoing bloodshed has now fallen into line as yet another example of what should rightly be called a tragedy. And though we will rightly hold dear to us the sacred trust and actions of those who so selflessly gave entirely of themselves in the passing days, we should also remember the separate tragedy of this unmet hope, this yet unanswered prayer.
For this year marks the centennial of another, more humble passing. It was on January 28, 1918 when a little-known Canadian physician succumbed to pneumonia amid the battlefields where so many of those he cared for had passed. Our doctor saw a lot in his day. Once on the battlefield, as the highest-ranking officer in a camp, he was obliged to preside over a funeral rite for fallen soldiers, including his close friend and confidant Alexis Helmer. And it was for that funeral rite that our doctor, Dr. John McCrae, wrote this:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Our island holds so many reminders of how a nation might come to be involved in global warfare: the buzzing of aircraft unlike any a civilian will ever occupy, signs and gates marking the guarded entry to military fortresses, the presence of once mighty ships sunken in shallow waters holding still the bodies of too many souls. But more powerful than any of these reminders are the faces set below the brim of a uniform hat. Short days ago, these were children. To me many of them still are. They are all, indeed, someone’s child.
It is this week perhaps when I notice all the more the bloom of youth around this island dressed in the trappings of war. It is this week perhaps when I listen all the more to those I love who were lost to raging battles. And it is this week perhaps when I am dedicated all the more to the unfinished work of peacemakers. I pray all the more, I plead all the more, in the sight of a century’s lost children, that we take up the torch from failing hands, that we fulfill the faith of those who died, that we together, one day and forever, might lay down every sword and every shield, and study war no more.
And may it ever be so,
Rev. T. J.