Wednesday, November 11, 2015

London Called: Remembrance Day

    London remembers the wars. Everywhere you go, the streets of London remind you that the city was once victim to the wrath of war and evil. Monuments, scarred buildings, plaques, statues, these reminders not only mark the punishment the city took for standing up to those who thought they knew better, they also tell the world that no matter what you throw at London, she will rise above it. It takes a lot of strength to stand up to the bully and when you do, the fall out is often negative, but it's a price worth paying if you're going to remain true to yourself. London, like many cities, did this and the reward was to remain standing.

I was moved by all markings of wars in London. I too had family who served and lived through World War II. I too had family who served and died in the same war. My family is much smaller than some because of that war, uncles never known to my mother, gave their lives for their country. I knew a woman who proudly served in the WRAF and was in London during the Blitz. She would tell me the stories without fear, a slight smile playing on her lips. Perhaps time enough had passed to take the edge off the horror it must have been to live through. Or maybe, during that time, she blocked out the fear, stood fast, took shelter, and waited it out in a stoic, calm manner of the English people around her. I will never know because I knew her at time when my own life experience wouldn't have drawn the questions from me. I assumed she had been scarred, because who wouldn’t have been, but now I've a feeling it was something else. An emotion generated in war that there is no word for, but a word only people who have served in war know.

  One of our days in London took us to St. Paul's Cathedral. I could try to describe its beauty, its splendor, its majesty to you, but it would only paint a rough picture of what is it really like. It's a place that needs to be felt first and then seen and I've not the words or skill to describe it. A lot of its wonder blended into a sense of awe with a few specifics rising out of that feeling.

  To the left of the Dome, there are two corridors that lead to the North Transept. Going down the further one, leads you to a stunning painting, The Light of the World, by William Holman Hunt. There are chairs for you to sit and contemplate the painting, and find your own meaning. Selfishly, as I had been in the musical Godspell only months before, the song of the same name as the painting immediately popped in my head. However, the memory was pleasant and when I connected it with the painting, it gave the production I'd been in more meaning. Not a bad thing.

   I then moved on and walked to the first corridor and after I turned the corner I came face to face with a
most beautiful alter cloth. Encased in glass, this "art from war", as described on the St. Paul's Cathedral website, was created by over a 130 injured soldiers recovering in hospitals all over the country during The Great War. Soldiers from the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa were encouraged to contribute to the High Alter tapestry as part of their recovery process. The display says that, "Embroidery was a classic device for the rehabilitation of soldiers during WWI, because this intricate close work greatly helped to reduce the effects of shell shock".

   It is an exquisite piece of artwork and to know that it was created by men who had faced horrors that most of us will never know gives it a deep, almost holy beauty. While living with great pain, coming to terms with their forever emotion and physical afflictions, mourning the loss of fellow soldiers, and missing their home and families, they added colour and magic to the world. Their time in the trenches and the front lines, all the suffering they witnessed and lived through did not take away the ability it rise above it all and make art from war.

   It gave me pause; it brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. I've been very lucky in my life but I've had sufferings, and yes, they have been on smaller scale, but they are my sufferings. While going through a rough patch this past summer, and wondering if I'd done the right thing by speaking my mind, my husband, frustrated but supportive said, that when you stand up for yourself, you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences. He said London stood up to Hitler and paid a heavy price for doing so, but it had to be done. He was in no way comparing my issues to the Blitz, but the parallel of not backing down was clear.

   Our lives are precious and fleeting and we can waste so much time wishing they were something else and not appreciating what we have. However, days like Remembrance Day should remind us that a lot of what we have is because of the men and women who have served our country. And like these brave souls, and in particular like London and the alter cloth, we can all find a way to rise above our pain, our sufferings, and give the world something beautiful.