Why every day should be a day for remembering
It is only after the sadness of the November 11 Remembrance Day commemorations that I can begin to look forward to the lights of Christmas and the optimism of the New Year.
There will be services in churches and at cenotaphs everywhere to remember those who served in two World Wars and in many other conflicts since then. The words and solemn music do not change, and there is nothing more evocative than the strains of Elgar's Nimrod played by a military band, followed by the two-minute silence.
Each Remembrance Sunday I think of my grandfather Tommy McCreary who fought at the Battle of The Somme and of my Uncle Denzil Jones who served in the horrendous Burma campaign.
I think of my grandmother's sister, Aunt Maria, who became extremely distraught at this time because she had lost two sons in the Second World War. At a recent funeral in my native Bessbrook, I noticed their headstones, silent witnesses to the family’s grief.
In this month's Presbyterian Herald I read Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick's reference to three brothers from Second Comber Presbyterian Church — James, John and Samuel Donaldson — who all died on July 1, 1916. Thereafter, their mother, Mrs Mary Donaldson, attended church dressed completely in black.
This grief is not just historic. Last year I was in Royal Wootton Bassett when the hearses carrying the remains of several servicemen killed in Afghanistan passed through, and this was an extremely sad occasion. Recently we experienced grief nearer home, with the death of young Comber medic, Corporal Channing Day, killed in a gun-battle in Afghanistan.
This year's Remembrance Day ceremonies are particularly poignant because of the 25th anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb which killed 11 people and injured many at the cenotaph after a no-warning IRA bomb.
It was rightly described in the commemoration service this week by the Bishop of Clogher, John McDowell, as “something almost indescribably depraved”.
Despite the noble words of forgiveness from Gordon Wilson whose daughter Marie died of injuries from the explosion, it did not stem the blood lust of those who never take peace for an answer. This week's funeral of the murdered prison officer David Black reminded us that the grief of his family is just as intense as those who suffered because of the Enniskillen bomb, and in the years before and afterwards.
There is a danger that because the situation has improved in Northern Ireland, some people take what we have achieved for granted. It is not so long ago, historically speaking, that we experienced the horrors of sectarian murders almost daily.
Those who describe the Remembrance Day commemorations as a ‘glorification of war' could not be more mistaken. Instead, they give all of us an opportunity to reflect and also to think afresh about the terrible suffering.
They also provide a challenge to all of us, as the Methodist president the Rev Kenneth Lindsay noted this week. Mr Lindsay, the Methodist minister in Enniskillen, said that the victims of the cenotaph explosions were not forgotten, despite the passage of time.
He also emphasised that the challenge of making and keeping the peace is not just the responsibility of politicians and other leaders, but of all of us.
In the harsh business of life and death, and of making progress in Ulster, every day — not just November 11 — should be treated as a remembrance day, and also a warning of what can happen when the talking stops. We must, and will, remember them.