Re-member this Remembrance Sunday…

We’re coming to the time of year now when we hear a lot about the issue of remembering. 11th November just past was Armistice Day, the date in 1918 when the First World War came to an end. Many will have observed a minute of silence at 11 a.m. in honour of this anniversary. This, of course, is followed by Remembrance Sunday when many people will gather in villages, towns and cities to remember and commemorate those who died in both World Wars and the many conflicts since. This being Northern Ireland and we here having a very complex and often traumatic history, such things give rise to a certain amount of disagreement and even tension in how and who different people choose to remember. So, while many will choose to remember, many will not. That’s how it is in a reasonably free society I guess.

I’ve been on a journey with these issues in my own life over the last few years. I have been challenged to think about what I believe and why I believe it. I have confronted some of the myths I grew up with and have come to see them as myths, rather than truths. I have found it a deeply rewarding time in my life.

As part of that process this year I want to turn my mind to exploring what we mean by remembering. Stick with me here as I try to offer a different definition of what the word ‘remember’ might represent. Let’s break it into two parts- ‘re’ and ‘member’.

Re: once again

Member: part of a body

When we do this, a new definition might look like this:

Re-member: to once again become part of one body.

Now, what would the implication be of taking this as a definition of remembering? What effect might it have on how we remember and on how we treat the whole idea of remembrance?

Let’s begin by focussing on that image of a body. We know that not all parts of a body are the same. In fact, the parts of a body can be very different and have different positions and different functions. In one way, they can look like they are working and existing in isolation of each other. An ear hears. An eye sees. A nose smells. A hand grasps. A leg walks. The nose isn’t an ear and doesn’t need and ear in order to smell. The eye doesn’t need the nose in order to see something. The leg doesn’t need the hand in order to propel the body forward.

However, when we go to a deeper level; when we get under the skin if you will, we see that while from an outside perspective the members of the body look like they are operating independently, they are in fact part of the same bodily system. They all rely on the heart pumping life blood to them and on the brain interpreting and directing what they are doing.  Many parts; one body.

What would it mean for us all to realise that, though we have different positions and different opinions and histories, we are in fact part of one body- a body larger than our own narrowly defined group? Many of us claim to be in this mode. But, speaking personally, I know that even though I aspire to being one part of a larger body, I still have my shadowy prejudices and own sense of in-groups and out-groups. Understanding this and trying to quieten this in my life has been a job of work. I am working against my history and the myths I spoke of earlier on. But I am working on them.

Further, though, what if we worked to accept the definition of ‘re-membering’ set out above, and see the task of remembering not simply to call to mind people, things and events from the past, but also to assist in bringing us all closer together as part of that one larger body? I’m not arguing for an either-or description of remembering. I’m drawn towards a both-and description- calling to mind the people and events we hold dear AND doing so in a way that furthers a ‘re-membering’; bringing all people closer together.

Might this have implications for those who gather for commemorations and Remembrance events? Might they be called to be sensitive in a new way to how others (other parts of the same body) are effected by their gatherings? Might they be challenged to include others in a new way or to reach out in heretofore unexplored directions? I believe it may be so.

However, there is another both-and dimension to what I am saying here. Not only is there an implication for those who choose to remember to review how they do so. There is also an implication for those who choose not to take part in remembering or who witness those who remember. Here, I will declare that I do not take part in any Remembrance Day events. I am non-militaristic in my outlook- even leaning towards pacifism. I do not seek to say that I am right here. I’m just declaring my own stance in the context of what I am arguing for. So, I am one who witnesses remembering. What is the implication for me and others who do not take part in remembering events? Might there be an implication for us, in the spirit of ‘re-membering’ (bringing all people closer together as one body), to show generosity and understanding to those who do- even if this is very challenging for us and even if the remembering events are somewhat alien to our tradition, history and experience? Might there be an implication for us to get to know individuals who choose to remember? All too often, it seems, we know only a group from afar and not up close and personal with the individuals in the group.

For instance, I have been blessed to develop a deep friendship with two people who do choose to remember and this has changed my life. I have not had to give up any dear held beliefs (although I choose now to hold some of those beliefs more lightly and in a more relaxed way). I have not ‘lost’. In fact, I believe I have gained immeasurably by this coming together with these two great people. I believe our simple friendship may be an act of ‘re-membering’- of bringing people together into one body once again. It certainly has felt like that for me and I am thankful.

So, as we go into these days of remembering or commemorating and choosing not to remember or commemorate, I wonder can we do so with a spirit of ‘re-membering’. I pray that one day we all will be one body once again- up close and personal.

Jim Deeds is a husband, a father, an author and pastoral worker. Find him on and on Twitter @gymforthesoul

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.

  • Andy Lindsay

    A lot of thought went into this piece, maybe too much thinking!
    I wear my understated wee poppy just for a few days each year. I have yet to hear anyone tell me which political party or which political cause I am supporting by wearing it.
    If I thought for a second wearing one was supporting anyone other than the soldiers, air crews and sailors – I wouldn’t, it’s as simple as that.

  • On the fence!

    Excellent sentiment sir.

    Nothing to add.

  • Anglo-Irish

    I’m old enough to remember when wearing a Poppy meant precisely what it states in the link you’ve provided.

    It was a quiet and respectful sign of remembrance.

    A Poppy was worn a day or so before the 11th and removed by the 12th.
    I have no memory of anyone making a song and dance about someone not wearing one.

    Unfortunately it appears to have become more about the person wearing the emblem than remembering the fallen.

    It has been taken over by a generation that pays too much attention to celebrity as opposed to reality.

    The wearing of Poppies from the beginning of October and all this nonsense with the football shirts is turning the whole thing into a political statement as opposed to a personal choice.

    Ironically, when most of the older generation had personal experience of war the whole act of remembrance was handled with a quiet dignity, but now very few people have experienced it we are making a huge fuss and demanding that everyone conforms.

  • ted hagan

    In France they simply have ONE DAY of remembrance but which is significant because it is a public holiday, which is more than the UK for all its so-called devotion, is able to do, probably the reckoning being that it would interrupt early Christmas shopping. Why not copy the French and end the weeks of humbug. That’s how it used to be.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Of course, AI, the “Bleuet” or Cornflower is the French equivalent of our poppy. Have you encountered Appolinaire’s poem?:

    Or Francois Poulanc’s musical setting of it?:

  • Anglo-Irish

    Now that would be an excellent idea.

    Remembrance day is being treat like Christmas, with decorations on display in November and the whole point of the reason for it being lost in the display.

    One day of remembrance on a public holiday, and the request that all ceremonies and emblems be confined to that day might just concentrate peoples minds as to the actual meaning.

    It isn’t a celebration, it’s a memorial to lives wasted on all sides and the utter futility of war.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    Perhaps people who wish to ‘remember’ should be allowed to do so in a manner of their own choosing? It seems to be that there are always lots of commentators ready to ‘request’ that others fall into line with the norms they self-proscribe.

    It may be beneficial to understand that the Remembrance Poppy is also a sign of charitable giving. This sits alongside its focus on Remembrance Sunday.

    At one time charity symbols were confined to ‘flag days’ when the symbol, usually a stick-on paper badge, was given to mark a donation and then pretty much discarded the next day.

    Today charities need to be much more PR focused to ensure donations are maximised. The manifestation of the least of these efforts allow those who give to show their support over much longer time by wearing metal badging, or the ubiquitous rubber charity bracelet. It is surely unrealistic to demand that the Poppy not follow this modern trend.

  • John Collins

    Never one to stir the pot, but what did he all think of James McCleans goal the other night.