‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. (George Santayana)
‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. / At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.’
HOM: Remaining open to continuous learning
The theme of remembrance runs through much of this season of autumn. On the 29th October at the church I attend, we marked All Soul’s day by saying prayers and lighting candles for those known to us who had died and who we wished to name and remember. Then, November 1st was All Saint’s Day, a time to remember all those considered saints by the church; people who have brought light in times of darkness and hope to those in despair.
Of course, in Mexico this remembrance of the dead is taken to a whole other level in the Day of the Dead on November 2nd. This is a day for the whole family to remember and celebrate the lives of their deceased family members. Families build home altars honouring the deceased and gifts are taken to their graves. Sweets are given to friends of candy sugar skulls and the traditional pan de muerto are shared with family and friends. It is both solemn and light-hearted, underpinned with a belief in the afterlife.
To remember is to be able to ‘bring to one’s mind an awareness of someone or something from the past’. Remembering is powerful and can bring both happy and sad memories. And arguably it is our particular set of memories that make us uniquely who we are, filled with the people and experiences that have shaped us. So, remembering may be shaped with both thanksgiving for the good things, a sadness for those things over which we had no control and a remembrance of bad things that we wish not to repeat.
All these aspects of remembrance are present as we look ahead to Armistice Day, the day on which we remember that on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the conflict of WW1 ended. Many will be wearing poppies in remembrance and on Friday we will observe a two minutes silence in school. This act of remembrance is special in that it is a collective act of remembrance marked by the whole nation. While WW1 is no longer in any living memories, arguably the importance of continuing to remember the fallen of that war becomes even more important, ‘Lest we forget’. And sadly as we all know it was not the war to end all wars. Others followed and are being fought today. While thankfully many of us will never know what it means to be in combat we have often been the beneficiaries of those who do. And there are few if any families who will not have been touched by the effects of war in their family histories.
So this week we remember, because it is right to do so and unless we do ‘ we may be condemned to repeat it’.