Yesterday’s beautiful, thought-provoking service at the village War Memorial, and observing the two minutes’ silence at work today have brought something sharply into focus for me. The Kohima Epitaph – an incredibly moving sentence which forms part of the Act of Remembrance – runs: ‘When you go home, tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, we gave our today’.
For the last couple of years particularly, I have had the very uncomfortable feeling that there’s a trend towards what we are doing with what the Epitaph refers to as ‘your tomorrow’ is not properly honouring the memory of those who fought and lost their lives – and those who continue to do so, in ongoing wars to protect global freedoms – to keep this country a place of free thought, free choice and opportunity for all.
Selfish behaviour – ‘it’s all about me’ – is apparently proliferating. The very opposite to the behaviour exhibited by those who chose and still choose to defend those they do not know, and future generations they cannot know, against ever-present threat and danger. The attitude ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ seems to have extended to people who need help and support to live their lives, who have fallen on bad times or who have been unable to make positive choices; those who surely we as a society have an obligation to support. Money, possessions rule, and ‘survival of the fittest’ is back but ‘fittest’ under our current government is replaced by ‘wealthiest’. We’re struggling against legislation specifically designed to destroy some of the most crucial supporting pillars of our society. Our health service – previously designed to give the best care to all; our education system – previously designed to give everyone the best possible opportunity to have the same chances; and our welfare system – previously designed as a safety net for anyone who could run into difficulties. Because anyone, actually, can run into difficulties, and more so now than any other time that I can recall, while as a population – in general – income and outgoings are being squeezed from every direction. All this has – perhaps understandably, from some angles – led to a more inward-looking focus. Times are tough, and in tough times, national attitude will inevitably creep towards ‘everyone for themselves’. This, in turn, can lead to the rejection, perhaps unconsciously, of support for people in the wider community who may need help.
I’m not sure where community, keeping an eye on those around us, has gone. I’m very lucky to live in a place with a real sense of community – it’s small enough to be that – and I hope that I will be challenged by people living in the biggest cities who say that they have communities tightly-knit within the apparently impersonal whole, But I have a feeling these are few and far between, or at least, that they do still exclude, worryingly the most vulnerable and lonely, those who need community most. This can’t have been the future imagined by those brave people who went to war.
Big challenges are daunting. It’s natural – I think – to shrink from it and think, there’s only one of me, I can’t make enough of a difference for it to be worthwhile. Doing something to make a change is a massive effort usually outside comfort zones. But as proven by lots of people individually raising small sums that collectively make a huge difference to a charity, individual small changes can build a wave of change. This Remembrance week I want to keep telling myself – to borrow a slogan – ‘every little helps’, and not just tell myself but act on it as well, where I can. By making small changes, individually, yet collectively, ‘tomorrow’ could be a nicer place, and a more fitting tribute to brave sacrifice.