Before anyone close to me had died, my early reflection on death took place most routinely sitting on gymnasium floors during Remembrance Day assemblies on November 11th each year.
I even remembering colouring pages with poppies on them in Grade 1.
These early experiences stirred my imagination in gradual and subtle ways.
As I got older, the school assemblies became more intense. Parents of soldiers who had graduated from my high school came and spoke to us about the wars in which they had died.
This is a throwback post to my Reflections on Rwanda Genocide Study Trip in May 2012
In May 2012, I travelled on the Reflections on Rwanda program, a two-week trip for Canadian students to visit the Republic of Rwanda and study the genocide that occurred there in 1994. The purpose for studying genocide is to gain insight into human nature through studying the extremes in human action. Listening to the stories of rescuers and survivors prompts me to study the virtues required to affirm the sanctity of human persons.
Confronting profound evil is a difficult experience that challenges my faith. We toured dozens of memorial sites throughout the country. Many of these sites were former churches where people had fled seeking refuge and peace. At each site, we saw hundreds of skulls and bones of victims. Looking at those skulls and bones, I thought about my own skull and my own bones. I thought about how these bones and skulls fall short of truly representing the victims. What the skulls and bones do emphasize is equality, but what they deemphasize is individuality. When I observed a display with rosaries and identity cards among the skulls, it made me think about the dynamism of the life that once animated those bodies that were so violently destroyed.
On September 11th, I am remembering my visits to the 9/11 memorial in New York City.
Earlier this year, I listened to this interesting podcast episode by Malcolm Gladwell discussing both the 9/11 memorial as well as memorials for the homeless. If that sounds intriguing to you, click here.
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum has a lot of elements that very much reveal the character, spirit, and approach of the American people to tragedy, patriotism, and the value of human life.
Here are some snaps from my visits:
This evening I am recalling going with a friend to France on a trip that we themed: “Corpses, Cathedrals, and Combat.”
During our roadtrip through Normandy, we visited Bayeux.
There we came upon a memorial park, at the entrance to which we found a monument that said:
“Bayeux, which has witnessed a freedom dearly won has included the Memorial to Reporters in its ‘Liberty Alley’ to encourage the younger generations to think about what freedom really means.”
Parallel to that is a monument that says “Memorial to Reporters” and then:
“This place is dedicated to reporters and to freedom of the press. It is unique in Europe, forming a walkway among the stones engraved with the names of journalists killed all over the world since 1944.”
I took these monuments in with earnestness and solemnity, and I made a point of stopping especially at the monument that included the names of the Charlie Hebdo satirical journalists killed by Islamists in 2015 since I remembered this so well.
“My public life is before you; and I know you will believe me when I say, that when I sit down in solitude to the labours of my profession, the only questions I ask myself are, What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?” – Joseph Howe
It was on this date in 1873 that Joseph Howe, “Defender of Freedom of the Press and Champion of Responsible Government in Nova Scotia” died in Halifax. He was a journalist, editor, newspaper owner, poet, member of parliament, president of the Privy Council, premier, and lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia.
A few years ago, while visiting Halifax, I chose to visit his grave at which I took the opportunity to read aloud with a friend Howe’s 1851 Letter to Electors, which ends with the poetic words: “A noble heart is beating beneath the giant ribs of North America now. See that you do not, by apathy or indifference, depress its healthy pulsations.”
Joseph Howe is known (if he is known at all, and that is rather unlikely in Canada these days) for having been charged with libel against which he argued passionately for “six hours and a quarter.” The charge came after his newspaper, the Novascotian, published a letter criticizing local politicians and exposing their corruption.
To get a taste of his rhetorical style, here is a brief excerpt: