Remembrance Day is generally associated with celebrating the sacrifices of those made in military wartime. On this day we will remember them as well as others who have made similar sacrifices in the name of justice, and in doing so could have the direct experience of upholding life.
Rev. Lori Kyle joined the UUCD family as our congregation's spiritual leader in October 2014. Following her recent successful interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in Boston, Lori was ordained at Toronto First on June 14, 2015. Lori is a native of Kansas City, Missouri and moved to Canada in 2009 with her family. Currently she resides in eastern Toronto with her fiancée Margaret, her children Maddie and Nathan, and their yellow lab Sally.
The complete sermon can be read below:
A couple of months after I first moved to Toronto in August of 2009, I began to see these little red flower things pinned to people’s lapels. As the days passed, I saw more and more, and soon they were everywhere.
I was intrigued by this, knowing they had to have some meaning, but I never got around to asking about it. Just some Canadian thing. About that time the following year, along came the red flower pins again. I wasn’t going to go another year without knowing, so I finally asked, and was given the story of the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers, and how, as a result of this, the poppy became a memorial symbol for soldiers who had died in conflict, and was made popular by the poem “In Flanders Fields”.
These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields in World War I, and it was after WWI, on November 7, 1919 that King George V instituted Remembrance Day. Since then this memorial celebration has been observed in the Commonwealth countries. Because this is a Commonwealth observance, there probably haven’t been many poppies being pinned on the lapels of German citizens, the “other” guys. Of course there are always “sides” in war, the quintessential manifestation of “us and them”.
But war is a great equalizer. The dark clutches of injury, death, trauma, and loss are indiscriminate, touching all of humanity. And taken from another angle, the “thems” haven’t always been the “thems”.
Yes, the two major wars of this century found Germany to be “the enemy” and France the ally. But if we were to look back one century earlier, however, we should find the situation reversed: France was the enemy and Germany the ally. For example, the Battle of Waterloo would have been lost had the British troops not been supported by German forces. Obviously labels like "enemy" and "ally" can change though. Regardless if you happen to fall on the side of enemy or ally, war has universal effects, and because we are all part of the human family, so are we all affected by war. Any person, regardless of one’s nationality, would have the direct experience of fear, relief, sadness, and determination in military conflict situations. We were all people before we became patriots.
I have a story to share with you of one soldier’s experience. Perhaps as you listen you can put yourself in his shoes, in his seat on that aircraft.
This story is about a young WWI English solider, who remembers his first mission over France and Germany in a bomber aircraft. There is nothing about his experience that wouldn’t be the experience of a German soldier, or Canadian, or Japanese, or Russian, then or now.
It’s entitled “A Flier’s Story”.
'i"My stomach felt like the new wringer washer that Mom just bought. What wasn't being sloshed about was being squeezed dry.
I was new to the crew, an 18 year old tail gunner - the most dangerous position in a bomber. My predecessor had been wounded during the last mission sitting right where I was sitting.
It was a sobering thought. You couldn't see much in the dark. We'd left the base ages ago and crossed the black water toward our destination.
I kept hoping we were going in the right direction but if we were lost then the rest of the squadron was lost too. I could see them faintly around me in the dim moonlight.
Suddenly the sky behind me lit up in an explosion that sent a tremor through our aircraft. Then another one went off over to the port side. It was my first taste of anti-aircraft fire and it was a frightening thing.
Suddenly, explosions were going off all around like a hundred flash bulbs all at once. One of the bombers behind us was hit, losing a small piece of its wing but it carried on. Another plane was hit. One of its engines caught fire.
I felt a morbid fear well up in side of me. What if that happens to us? What if we get hit? There's no knowing who makes it and who doesn't. What if we don't make it? What if...?
All I wanted to do was turn around and go home. But I couldn't. Suddenly, none of this made any sense. I guess I was near panic. Then I heard the captain's voice on my headset. "How's it going kid? If you're a little scared that's okay. The rest of us are a little scared too.
But we're here together and we each have our job to do. I know that you can do yours. Just settle down. Sing a song for us, why don't you. We'll be out of this in no time. You'll see."
I heard what he had to say and tried to think of a song but the only one I could think of was "Jesus Loves Me". So I started singing it: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so..." When I finished the second verse, I heard a few snickers from the rest of the crew but that was okay. It let me know they were there and listening and caring.
The pilot was right. It wasn't long before we were through the ack-ack and on to the target. We got back to the base safely on that first mission.
Two aircraft from our squadron weren't so lucky. The encouragement that I received from the rest of the crew was such a big help that night.
I will never forget those guys."
When I think of the universality of the experience of war, I think not only that people of all nationalities experience the horrors of war in the same way, but also that the universe of war isn’t limited to military conflict.
There are multitudes of people who have gone before us fighting wars not only for rights associated with military efforts, but also of wars fought for human rights.
Wars have been waged, and ARE BEING waged for not only political issues, but also for racial rights, sexual rights, gender rights, ethnic rights, and for all those marginalized for any reason.
McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” was written with the fallen military soldiers in mind. But its sentiments could also be written in honour of those who have gone before us in the fight for an array of human rights.
This version of the poem, for instance, reflects a soldier’s spirit who has fought and died in the effort to promote justice and freedom for LGBTQ individuals:
Across these fields our spirits dwell
Our tales of pain, some known well.
Others hidden in the wind
Known only to us made to bend
and sometimes to break in our despair
flames extinguished, once bright and fair.
Short days ago we knew no fight
Yet lurking was the dark of night.
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunsets swell,
Loved and were loved,
and now across these fields we dwell.
Take up this cause, then, with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If you break faith with us who’ve cried,
We shall still weep,
as across these fields our spirits dwell.
I’m now going to share another story with you. This one is written not from a soldier’s perspective, but by a nurse who served in a field hospital. In it she remembers a young soldier who came in with severe wounds.
This nurse, in her way, was holding the torch and upholding life for the wounded that came to her.
"The stretcher bearers brought the unconscious soldier into the field hospital and laid him in the waiting area.
Then they were gone again. His right leg was shattered - part of it missing. There was a tourniquet on it. The first aid team had done their job well. I started to clean him up and look for any less obvious injuries. With a wet towel I began to clean some of the mud off of his face and neck.
What I discovered was the most beautiful face. It was boyish and without blemish - like the face of an angel. I paused for a moment.
As I was looking at him, his eyes flickered and opened. They were a clear, deep blue.
At first, he was confused and scared, still in shock. I told him who I was and where he was and that he was going to be okay. He said he was scared and could I stay with him. I looked around. He was the only one waiting for surgery. "Sure," I said. "I'll stay with you as long as you want."
Then I took his hand and he squeezed mine tightly. We sat there like that for more than half an hour. He would drift in and out of consciousness and when he woke up, he was always scared. But when he looked up and saw me, he would relax, squeeze my hand and, once again, close his eyes to rest.
Finally, it was his turn for surgery. He squeezed my hand one last time and was gone to the O.R. That was the end of his soldiering days. It's tough to march on one leg. He was stabilized and, the next day, shipped further back behind the lines toward England.
For the longest time, the image of his angelic face stayed in my mind. I wondered how he made out. Then, one day, I got a letter from him. In that letter, he told me what a comfort I had been to him during those very dark hours.
"I still wake up frightened sometimes," he wrote," but when I do, I think of you there beside me, holding my hand, and I feel a lot better. You will never know what an encouragement you were to me. Thank you."
The torch can be held high in many ways.
It continues to be held high in Flanders, Belgium, where every evening since 1928 the people in the town of Ypres play the last post in memory of fallen soldiers at 8pm. This nightly remembrance occurs at a place called Menin Gate, and was only interrupted during one period in WWII when the Germans occupied the town.
The very evening that the Menin Gate was liberated from the Germans in 1944, the townspeople resumed their playing of the "Last Post" (even when at other places in the town heavy fighting continued to rage on).
The people of Ypres epitomize the remembrance that Robert Laurance Binyon exhorts us to in his poem “For the Fallen.”
Within this poem Binyon writes:
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.
Let us indeed remember those who have fallen in the name of freedom… political freedom, sexual freedom, racial, gender, class, and ethnic freedom. May we be united with them in life and in death, so that in our remembering we will be forever changed and inspired.
And finally, as we see the crimson pins around this time of the year, may we, like the people of Ypres not only remember the blood that has been shed for freedom of all kinds, but also become the lifeblood of being bringers of freedom and of justice in our own lives.
And so may it be.
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