We Will Remember Them

It’s Remembrance Day, you see.

It’s not often I get homesick or nostalgic for that far-off sunburnt country, but two days I can count on to make me weepy for Australia are ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day.

I’m not from a military family and I don’t have lots of military friends. I haven’t lost anyone in a war and nor do I believe that a nation’s armed forces are its shining glory.

But what I do believe in is the power of memory, and the profound connection created by communal remembering, and I miss being part of that.

At every service to remember our war dead, a powerful stanza from the poem For The Fallen is read:

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.

And as the speaker falls silent, the listeners answer together in solemn unison:

We will remember them.

Wherever I am in the world, on these days that mark the unbearable sacrifice of so many people, I read this poem.

I whisper it quietly to myself, and sit in silence, missing the lucky country those people paid for.

I miss quietly getting out of bed in the dark to go to the dawn service.

I miss the reverent communion in the minutes of silence following the reading.

I miss knowing, in my bones, what those words mean to the people around me, knowing what all that sacrifice meant for us, even when I’m surrounded by strangers.

Because these words, these timeless, beautiful words, unite our vision of everyone and everything we lost, and what we gained.

In the brief minutes of a memorial service, our differences are put aside, and our personal opinions bow before that sacrifice.

Saying the words together, in a ritual we’ve all agreed upon, binds us together, makes our whole greater than the sum of our parts.

Memory, we all know, is changeable and mercurial. It can be rewritten with each new telling (a thread to pull another day).

But when we remember together, memory becomes more reliable, more sturdy, more true.

When we remember together, we pull our bonds just a little tighter, staving off loneliness. We save each other from the silent, agonising rot that sets in when our memories go unspoken.

And when we remember together, we recognise each other again. All the excruciating failures and soaring triumphs, all the monotonous days, all the tiny, lovely milestones that make life what it is — it’s all called forth when we remember together.

This, I think, is what all the sacrifice was for. This moment of empathy, and recognition, and humility.

It’s this moment that can change us. It’s this moment that takes us beyond ourselves. And it’s this moment that can tether us, even when we’re oceans away, to homes and people we can hold only in memory.

And so, at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.