Lest we forget

by Sarah Bessey

Source: Uploaded by user via Sarah on Pinterest

My grandpa was a good-looking kid from the Canadian prairie when he marched away to war. He was shot on a hill in Italy during a pre-dawn raid. He fell in the cold, thick mud while it poured rain, everyone rushing past, a stampede. Bright red blood from his back thigh soaked into the thick fabric and the mud while he, unsure if he would live or die, was desperate with a fear more sharp than pain. A buddy of his pulled him to safety that day, carried him, slung over his back, gear and all, he ran them both straight down that hill.

He never talked about the war much. Oh, he sang old songs like “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! We’re going on a mighty mission” and joked about his wound, his buddies. But just once that I remember, in uncharacteristic solemnity, he admitted that he’d never been so afraid in his life as he was that day on that hill, alone in the mud, surrounded by the sounds of his friends running and screaming and falling and dying in the dark. “We were terrified,” he said. “We were just a bunch of kids.”

He came home. Many of his friends did not.

Today is Remembrance Day in my country of Canada and other Commonwealth nations (Veterans Day for the United States). I have a blood-red plastic poppy pinned to my heavy fall coat because I have committed since I was little-little, reciting In Flander’s Fields in school assemblies while holding paper cut-out poppies glued to green cardboard wreaths, that I would always remember

N’oubliez pas.

War is complex, horrible, evil. As a Christian, I have felt lead to a path of peace-making but it’s an “uneasy pacifism” because I don’t know how it looks all the time, how best to live a consistent pro-life ethic with peace and love in a culture of violence, power and war. I know that pacifism is not total and absolute abhorrence of all violence – instead, to me, it’s a policy of non-aggression and active peace-making.

It’s the tension between my beautiful ideals and the ugly realities of the world. And that tension exists for me today because, God, I’m so proud of him. I’m proud of my grandpa’s guts, of his bravery, his story. I’m proud of an entire generation’s commitment to a cause, proud of what they accomplished. Today, that poppy is proud on my pacifist coat, baggage and wonderings and tension be damned. Today, I remember my grandpa, I remember his friends, I remember every man and woman that has served in war time, I remember the cost and reality of war. This is no day for nationalistic flag-waving nor condemnation. It’s a day for solemn remembrance, quiet knowing, one eye on the fields still covered with poppies, watered with blood and shit and mud, across the homes of the world, for those that shall never grow old, the years never marking them.

May our veterans know how deeply I grieve with them, pray for them, love them, honour them. I fervently pray and speak and work for peace because I remember.

I will not break faith with them.

Lest we forget.




39 Responses to “Lest we forget”

  1. S November 11, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    Forget not, lest we be forgotten.

    Moving. Thank you.

  2. Jen November 11, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    I shivered with chills and goosebumps reading this out to my husband. Poignantly written, Sarah.

    And amen. Amen and amen.

  3. Kamille@Redeeming the Table November 11, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    your words breathe conviction with a shot to the gut. you use your words to create a painted canvas for my soul to see.

    I think of the verse in Joel,”And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

  4. Mandy November 11, 2011 at 4:08 am #

    I’m walking away today with the term “uneasy pacifism” and can relate to these words: “This is no day for nationalistic flag-waving.”
    “I will not break faith with them.” This is stunning.

  5. Carolyn Counterman November 11, 2011 at 5:35 am #

    Thank you. As the wife, daughter, granddaughter, niece, aunt, and friend of so many veterans (WW II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflicts), it is important to me that we remember that they fought for so many reasons, including our ability to have an open forum like this. Sometimes what they fought for amounted to nothing, really. But they were willing…

    I like the term “uneasy pacifist”. I’ve always called myself ambivalent. The first people to tell you that there is nothing good about war would be the ones who have fought. I wish we could find a better way.

    Thank you for speaking up about remembering.

    • Sarah@EmergingMummy November 12, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

      Thank you, Carolyn. You’re right – they fought for many reasons, some personal and others they hardly knew or were far above their pay grade. And yes, they were willing. I believe that we can find a better way and that usually a better way is more obvious than we are willing to admit. But when all you have is a hammer, well, you know how everything looks like a nail. *sigh*

  6. Addie Zierman November 11, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    Thanks for this gorgeous post. So easy to move through life without remembering. Thanks for helping me take a moment this Veterans Day to sit in the tension and be grateful.

  7. Alise November 11, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    “This is no day for nationalistic flag-waving nor condemnation. It’s a day for solemn remembrance, quiet knowing, one eye on the fields still covered with poppies, watered with blood and shit and mud, across the homes of the world, for those that shall never grow old, the years never marking them.”

    Yes, this. As another uneasy pacifist, I often wonder how to celebrate today. This sums it up beautifully. Thank you for sharing your words & your grandfather with us today. (And this is a day when I always deeply miss my Kacko.)

  8. HopefulLeigh November 11, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    Remembering the cost and reality of war, remembering those who served and currently serve. Yes, this, Sarah. Thank you for encapsulating this day.

  9. brenda November 11, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    beautifully written…lest we forget

  10. mary November 11, 2011 at 6:57 am #

    beautifully said . . . as always, sweet friend.


  11. Jenn November 11, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    Sarah I alway so appreciate you heart on any topic of war. I too feel that tension, I think no matter where you stand on violence and pacifism it’s important to remember that freedom always comes at a cost.

    I was listing to a farmer talk about food and how life always comes at a sacrifice and it struck me how true that statement was, food dies so we might live, men and women die so we might live in freedom, nothing comes without without a price.

    Today I too remember those who have fought bravely for what they believe in, the many, many lives that have been paid as a toll to the evil that exists in our world, and I remember to be so thankful for the freedoms I take for granted everyday that most of the world lives without.

    Thank you for starting this day off on the right note.

  12. Don Sartain November 11, 2011 at 7:04 am #


  13. Nancy November 11, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    “It’s the tension between my beautiful ideals and the ugly realities of the world.” I’ve been trying to state that tension for years. You did it beautifully here.

  14. Ashleigh Baker November 11, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    Oh my sweet friend. This is perfect.

  15. Sillydoodah (Dawn) November 11, 2011 at 8:30 am #


  16. Mum November 11, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Beautifully spoken. I too am so thankful today for our nation, our God, our sons and daughters, for all the families that are alone today….you are not alone! We will always remember you.

  17. wendy November 11, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Lovely, Sarah!
    I’m wrestling with the dichotomy myself, being a Mennonite, with pacifism steeped in our bones for hundreds of years… finding out recently that one of my uncles actually did join the army (he never came home)… coming to terms with the reality that, had the Nazis *not* invaded the Soviet Union, I would most likely have been born and raised there instead of here.
    So I’m thankful for those that gave their lives for me, and I mourn the fallen-ness of our world that made their sacrifice necessary, and I pray and hope that somehow, some way, we can do better.

    • Sarah@EmergingMummy November 12, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

      I am so intrigued by the Anabaptist or Mennonite tradish on this, Wendy. You’ll have to tell me more about it sometime. And yes, how different would life – our own lives – be without them? I cannot fathom.

  18. cara gabrielse November 11, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    “… it’s a policy of non-aggression and active peace-making.” that should be the goal. sometimes, like in the case of hitler or stalin, it is just impossible. but unfortunately we (at least us yanks) take up arms for much lesser causes. i struggle with the flag waving because i don’t want to be all “we are #1!” but i want to honor all the soldiers in our country that have gone to war, even to unjust ones, and served, and continue to serve. thanks for bringing nuance to a difficult situation.

    • Sarah@EmergingMummy November 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

      I know – I want to find a way to honour without nationalism. I see it in the Remembrance Day ceremonies – they are truly mournful, quiet, solemn and respectful. I think that is the right way to go about it. No fireworks for this.

  19. Sarah@From Tolstoy to Tinkerbell November 11, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    So beautiful, my dear friend. Remembering with you today.

  20. Todd Hiestand November 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    I’m like, one of two men to post on here. Never been to your blog before so maybe i’m at some women’s blogger circle or something! :) but, i got here from a link on Facebook. As someone like you who is leaning into an “uneasy pacifism” this was perfect for me today. thanks.

    • Sarah@EmergingMummy November 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

      Nope, no women’s only club! You’re more than welcome, Todd. Glad you showed up. (We even have a few dudes on the contributors list – we’re so progressive! *wink*) And thank you.

  21. Janae November 11, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Bravo Sarah for your willingness to speak from one position, while advocating for another. It boils down to you choosing Love, choosing people. I think Love brings in all shades, which confuses, blurs lines and challenges easy certainty. And maybe to not forget what matters we need the dash of chaos Love exudes.

  22. Janelle November 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    Ah, yes. I, too, am a Canadian prairie girl with a grandpa who fought, but he was not a warrior. He rarely talked of it, actually. “It’s not for little children to think about,” he’d say. He was a boy, hardly older than my oldest son, when he left Britain for the battlefield. I can picture him still, marching in his little kitchen while he made toast for my sisters and me, singing out the songs from the war. The Great War, as he called it. The one they thought would be the last. I remember him, and the others, today.

    • Sarah@EmergingMummy November 12, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

      It’s so sad, isn’t it, Janelle? That they truly believed it would be the war to end all war. It breaks my heart.

  23. Seth Haines November 11, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    I love this.

    My grandfather took aim at an Italian officer on a foreign knoll. Do or die, he couldn’t bring himself to shoot the man in the back, so he shot him in the thigh. It was only a flesh wound, so my grandpa stripped him of his uni, stole his piece, and sent the man limping back home. He told the story with this awkward mix of regret and empathy. Sometimes I think he wished he would have killed his country’s enemy. Sometimes, I think he wished they would have declared a truce and had a bier.

    And somewhere in Italy, a kid is thanking Jesus that an American shot his grandpa in the leg instead of through the heart. I feel some kind of awkward human connection to that hypothetical kid.

    Sarah, I think this is one of the most complex pieces I’ve read honoring our veterans. You’ve done well here. I mean it.

    • Sarah@EmergingMummy November 12, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

      The connections that were so unfathomable two or three generations ago are so tight now, aren’t they? I think that with the wars we fight now, there is no faceless nameless enemy. Or rather, there never was but now we know, we are killing brothers and sisters. Thank you, Seth.

  24. Kristen@Chasing Blue Skies November 11, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    What a heartfelt, reverent post, Sarah. Thank you for your word-gift on this important day.

  25. Rev. Barbara November 11, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, and amen.

  26. K. D. Kragen November 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Sarah. Good piece! An honorable story.
    Brava & thank you, Sarah from Canada.
    As a philosophically midigated pacifist (not dissimilar from you), a Nam-era vet (U.S. Coast Guard, 1973-77), and an Xian, I think you articulated well you views, your empathy, your as-you-call-it “uneasy pacifism.”

  27. Mary L. November 13, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Brilliantly said.

  28. reccewife November 17, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    So I tweeted you about this post when I read it, but its taken me a long time to write a comment. I am always a little scared when I see ‘christian’ writing about the military in Canada, more often than not I have found it negative and hurtful. Being a military family as well as a family who loves Jesus, it can be a struggle, and I have learned is also filled with many judgements by those who believe we can’t be both.
    I might not be a pacifist, but I appreciate your honest look at this and the love you obviously put into writing it. You are right – Remembrance Day is not one for politics or arguments. Thank you for sharing.


  1. | Moonlight & Sunbeams - November 11, 2011

    [...] Great-Aunt Margaret So today, I remember.  And I am beginning teaching my children to remember.  I will remember to give thanks, to give honour and respect to the memory of those who sacrificed everything, including their lives, and for those who are currently sacrificing so that we may have freedom and life. _____ For a beautiful read, head to A Deeper Story: Lest We Forget [...]

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    [...] we forget. This post originally appeared at Deeper Story last year.  0 /* /* In which I ask you about your spiritual mothers /* [...]

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