Remember … to learn to forget to be selfish

Published November 1, 2003

Being asked to write a reflective remembrance article, just four days before the end of my six-month tour as the senior chaplain for ROTO 12 (the 12th rotation of troops for the task force in Bosnia and Herzegovina , known as Operation Palladium) seemed like such a normal part of the experience here. I said yes; and now, after a night of four emergency calls, here I sit at 0530 hrs. I have finished my morning prayers in the chapel, and now I ask myself, “What can I share with my Anglican family that may help us be better Christians for having remembered?”

Do you ever remember lining up and having a finger of authority pointed at you, singling you out and making you feel uncomfortable? This is the experience that, in part, led to my being here on ROTO 12.

At the Havelock , N.B., Legion Branch #86, I was lined up with other military and former military members, and with a wave of the branch president’s hand, we were introduced to those gathered as The Veterans. Despite my having served in the military Reserve Forces for 18 years, I did not feel like a veteran.

Indeed, I have pondered the question “Can anyone be a veteran after the Second World War?” I think that is because I had locked my mind into the idea that nothing bad had happened in the 59 years since D-Day. Although I know that this is not the case, I wanted to believe it. Despite seeing the bombed out shells of skyscrapers in Sarajevo, the miles and miles of destroyed, abandoned, bullet-ridden, blood red brick villages in Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the mass graves, the stories of people who only escaped with their lives, and those who didn’t, I still want to believe that nothing bad happened. Despite the arrest of criminal and political leaders, the random shots at the camp, the minefields, the deaths, I still want to believe that all people are perfect and good.

Here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as in many other places around the world, young men and women of our Canadian Forces risk their lives daily in peace support operations. Here they go door to door searching for hidden weapons, because there are still too many weapons and too much ordnance in the hands of the local populations. (Not unlike what happened in defeated countries after the Second World War.) The collection is done because in this peace support operation, we do not want people killing themselves or others. So far the ammunition collected could fill eight football fields to a height of four metres.

All of this tells us why it is important to remember. We must remember because all people can be selfish and self-centered and power hungry.

The lectionary lesson, from Haggai 1:3-9, on the day I write this reflects this.

Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house (lies) desolate?” Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; (you) eat, but (there is) not (enough) to be satisfied; (you) drink, but (there is) not (enough) to become drunk; (you) put on clothing, but no one is warm (enough;) and he who earns, earns wages (to put) into a purse with holes.”

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the Lord. “(You) look for much, but behold, (it comes) to little; when you bring (it) home, I blow it (away.) Why?” declares the Lord of hosts, “Because of My house which (lies) desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.”

We must remember so we might perhaps learn to forget to be selfish.

More than a million and a half Canadians have served overseas in war, and on peacekeeping duties, in order to preserve the gifts of freedom and peace for future generations. More than 100,000 of those Canadians never came home. Every year we pause at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month to pay tribute to their memory, and also homage to all those who did return home, their lives, and the lives of their families, forever changed.

We must remember so the world might continue to strive to share God’s gifts of compassion and love. We must remember because our own sinful hearts are often the heart of the problems that prevent such sharing. We must remember because we each can be changed, both from within and from without, just as the love and support of the people of the world has helped to transform our enemies of old conflicts into today’s partners for peace.

The outpouring of the love and gratitude by the people of Normandy and western Europe upon our veterans and their families demonstrates that their gifts of valour and sacrifice are still valued, and this is my prayer for the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for all the regions of the world that are still torn apart by hatred, fear and war.

We must remember so that we can continue to dedicate ourselves to support one another in the hope for, and pursuit of peace: peace in our own lives, and in our communities, and peace throughout God’s world.

Padre Jagoe is a reserve Anglican chaplain from the diocese of Fredericton . He is the senior brigade chaplain for 37 Canadian Brigade Group (a reserve brigade group that is headquartered in Moncton , N.B.).


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