“In the end we will remember, not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
There was a card game we used to play when I was young; it was a simple game of pairing cards. But the deck was spread out (face down) on a table, and players took it in turns trying to randomly match cards. After a while, if you concentrated, you could remember where you had last seen a six, or a queen, and begin to find your pairs. Some call such games ‘concentration’, in Jamaica it was called ‘Remembrance’, a way to develop memory. My mother once played the game with some of my kids. They were quite young at the time. One of them was doing very well, finding matches all over the place. My mother realized that he knew the cards by their marks and bends, this was an old pack they were playing with. She declared him to be cheating, and ended the game. I didn’t challenge her, (this was my mother we’re talking about) but at the time I was quite impressed that he was able to remember the cards by their clues. He was developing ‘remembrance’!
Memory is a tricky thing. There are memories that are triggered by smells or songs, those senses that are interpreted by the brain in an area that develops associations and memories. You hear an old song and all of a sudden you are transported back in time. It may not be an event or place that you recall so much as an emotion, a feeling. When we first moved to Jamaica, the family had to adjust to a totally new environment, unlike anything we had experienced before. From the sounds of traffic outside in a busy city, to the sounds of Jamaican creatures calling outside your window all night long. My father once went hunting with a flashlight, looking for the animal that was snoring loudly under the house, only to be told later that it was a tree toad! My mother had the hardest time culturally, having to be a minister’s wife (already an impossible job with many responsibilities and expectations and zero salary) in a strange new land. My parents had transported all of their worldly goods to Jamaica, so one of my early memories is of my father playing his records on an old record player. One of them was a jazz album, may have been by Billy Eckstine, but there was a haunting, bluesy song that to this day, whenever I hear it I remember the strangeness of our new home, the awareness of my mother’s discomfort. Remembrance.
98 years ago today, the guns fell silent, and World War I was over. It is remembered in England and elsewhere by the wearing of paper poppies, a symbol of those who lay dead in ‘Flanders field’ and other battle grounds in Europe, for after the war, the only things that grew on those fields were poppies. The day is celebrated as Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day in the UK. In the US it is known as Veteran’s Day, minus the poppies. It is important to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by others to these supreme acts of violence. In my own family my mother lost an Uncle in World War I, and her only brother in World War II. We should remember in order to try even harder to prevent future senseless brutal solutions.
This week in American politics has been a rough one. The results of the elections suggest that America is a far darker place than we had hoped. We are getting ready to say goodbye to a man and his family who have been held to a far higher standard than any previous occupants of the White House. And they have met those standards. But it was the activist Michael Moore who reminded us that the popular vote was not for the man who represented and campaigned on the rhetoric of hate and divisiveness. So no, you are not living in a land where the majority voted for him.
Martin Niemoller said it best when he wrote “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out, for I was not a Communist.” His poem goes on to list all of the people they came for, and for whom he did not speak, for he was not one of them. His last verse says “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.” We are being called on by our fathers of World War II, and of the Civil Rights era to recognize that it is time for us to speak up in support of the powerless, the overlooked, and the forgotten. Even as we complain and worry about the future, did you know that the rate of police killings is highest in the Native American population? They are the only people who should be building a wall to keep us out.
But we have to stand united in the face of the fracture lines that have been exposed, the intolerance and fear that have been given a voice. Yesterday I read that in the UK the safety pin is being worn as a symbol against hate and division. The ‘Brexit’ vote gave voice to a message of hate and intolerance; the same kind of message we have heard in the US. So wearing a safety pin signifies that the wearer of the pin is against such messages and actions, that they will stand up and intervene if necessary to push back against callous statements and ignorance. Now more than ever it is important to be vocal and outspoken in support of love, of compassion, of empathy.
This Friday morning I choose to be hopeful, to see the symbols of safety pins and poppies as signs of man’s humanity, of our basic sense of decency. As I reflect on where we have been, I can only hope that we will find our way to a better future. The truths that have been exposed by this dirty campaign season give us an opportunity to reinvent our future, to find a better way of living together.
On this day of remembrance, I hope you are warmed by good memories, and ready to step up to a new level of awareness and action. Have a great weekend, Family!