“Remembering is a noble and necessary act” says Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel: those are words we have taken to heart in this community; words that we practice every day.
Brian Rowan’s piece on Eamonnmallie.com commends to us the quiet acts of remembrance and contemplation and I agree that remembering quietly and privately doesn’t diminish that act in any way. But it doesn’t stand alone.
Every person who has lost a loved one – be it as a result of the conflict, an illness or an accident – each day undertakes those quiet acts of remembrance. It’s in the fleeting second their photograph in the living room catches our eye, the silent imperceptible nod as we pass the graveyard where they’re buried or in the smell of a favourite dinner being served up to a busy family kitchen. We remember and, with time, we smile.
Whilst those quiet and private acts sustain us and ensure our loved one is not forgotten in our home, they do little to stem the loneliness and desolation we feel that someone so central to our lives is gone, never to return.
And it’s here that our community comes to our aid. The traditions and rituals we associate with death have a two-fold purpose. In the first instance, they commemorate the person who has died, celebrating their achievements in family life, sport, music, art or work and the contribution they have made to the parish community, the sporting team, the school or whatever ‘group’ they belong to.
Most importantly perhaps, these rituals support those who mourn. All of us will have been the giver of handshakes and a “sorry for your trouble” at the wake-house of a friend, neighbour or relative and many of us will have been on the receiving end of those handshakes. When you’re the person on the receiving end of that handshake it really does make a difference.
When the rituals are over and the funeral is complete we retreat into silent mourning and it is here that many victims of the conflict flounder and cannot cope. They question who will understand and who will judge?
Here’s where we have to be big. Unless we seek to understand we will be forever condemned to judge.
The collective commemoration like that planned for Castlederg this coming weekend is a community of common experience coming together to support the living. It is reminding the families who mourn that their loss is not forgotten and that their friends and neighbours are still sorry for their troubles. That is our culture and tradition whether we are Republican, Loyalist, civilian, security forces, Irish, Northern Irish, British, all faiths or none.
Whether that collective commemoration be Remembrance Sunday speeches at cenotaphs, a sporting tournament or a march in a small border town then let us be big, indeed.
In that Nobel lecture, Weisel also said: “the opposite of the future is not the past but the absence of past. The loss of one is equivalent to the sacrifice of the other.”
Let us not lose our past as a misguided sacrifice to our future.
Let us be big enough to urge the organisers of all commemorative events to be respectful in their remembrance and hold them to account if they are not.
Let us be big enough to acknowledge that we don’t have to condone those who are remembered to be compassionate enough to respect those who mourn.
But let us not be so small that we set aside any act that gives comfort and support to grieving families and wounded communities because it’s just too hard to come to terms with the necessity and nobility of remembering.