Confluences of Grief: November 11 2016

This is grief's week. Many countries come together to remember the sacrifice of all those who have lost their lives or been wounded in the past and ongoing wars of our world. Half of the population of our neighbours to the south is in grief over one of the most distressing elections ever. And Canada is grieving the loss of one of our most iconic poets and songsters, Leonard Cohen. 

In Canada we remember and honour our war dead and our veterans and their families. We do so by wearing  a red poppy on our chests over our hearts. We all do this and it is easy to identify us on the world news and everywhere on our streets. This year thanks to modern technology even our parliament buildings got to wear the red poppy.

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour a ceremony takes place on Patlaiment Hill at our Nation's war memorial. As the daughter of a military family this day has always been important. In the last ten years it has become more important to Canadians and they attend the celebration or participate via television in greater numbers than ever before. Celebrations happen locally in every city and town of our country. 

Our national broadcasting system (CBC) opened the ceremony this year by playing a recitation by Leonard Cohen of In Flander's Fields. This is the  poem written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a physician practising on the front lines in WWI. It is a poem every Canadian learns by heart in primary school. In this act the CBC joined two rivers of our grief.

I was particularly proud and moved to watch as our young prime minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire  stepped forward to lay the wreath on the steps of the war memorial for all of us. They stood in the cold and windy air silently praying. Before stepping back into their proper place in the line, our PM crossed himself. I was moved by this simple act of his faith. I noticed how later, bare handed, he shook many many outreached hands of the veterans stopping to speak with each of them.  I thought I have much cause to pray for him and his family in the days ahead.

I have recently been travelling with a group of very devout Roman Catholics. I attended mass daily and also visited many cathedrals in Europe. I noticed the ease with which they made the sign of the cross as they came and went. I thought as Protestants we have no simple way to identify ourselves and our faith. We lost something in this I think. 

Prayers were offered at the ceremony by a Roman Catholic priest and a Rabbi. Both were courageous emissaries of a compassionate God. They both prayed not only for those who had made the ultimate sacrifice, and for their families but also for those who are daily returning wracked with PTSD. The priest also prayed for those for whom the pain was so great that they took their own lives. The suicides were included. Our shame is great that this is not yet official policy. As our poet singer sang "it is a broken hallelujah" but it is a hallelujah!

Inclusion matters. The vitriol of the current President elect of the USA excludes Moslems, Mexicans, women who seek abortions, the LTGBQ community and their hard fought rights, the availability of health care to the poor and this same vitriol raged against the reality of climate change.  We know our friends in the USA are shocked and frightened. We share the anxiety as their friends to the north. 

Leonard Cohen is no stranger to darkness. Once asked if he was a pessimist he responded,

" I don't consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin."

In times of dread and confusion, Cohen is a voice of comfort. He does not shirk from life's difficult moments. He rises to them and thus we know we are understood at the deepest levels. In a song called The Future one of the verses reads thus,

You don’t know me from the wind
you never will, you never did
I’m the little jew
who wrote the Bible
I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
but love’s the only engine of survival
Your servant here, he has been told
to say it clear, to say it cold:
It’s over, it ain’t going
any further
And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil’s riding crop
Get ready for the future:
it is murder

Recently I was part of a study group led by Canadian Father Ron Rolheiser on his yet unfinished book on the last part of life. He names the task of this stage, "giving your death away". I think Leonard Cohen has done exactly this with this last album of his life, You want it Darker. We are so blessed by this offering. Here is its first verse.

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame
This same poet songster gave us from Anthem
”Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
and so we love him all the more

To-day on the news thousands of primarily millennials are marching all over the USA. They want to be heard that they are standing with those who their President Elect cast off. One young man said it this way to the reporter. I want to say "hang in there, man. Yes, we did not vote but we are marching so that will never happen again. We will keep marching for 4 years if that is what it takes."  You have to love the enthusiasm for making amends of the young. 

From the man who plumbed the depths of the tower of song also came the hymn Democracy

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
As time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA
To the USA

So be it.