Remember, Remember

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot

And remember they do. Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the King and Parliament in 1605 is, for the English, recent history; I got the impression Nicola, my English flat-mate, is still a bit pissed off about it. I’m not precisely sure what the British are celebrating on Guy Fawkes Night—apparently, the holiday originated when King James decided to let the population know that they should feel free to celebrate his narrow escape by lighting fires in his honor (but only if they really wanted to)—but it sure is a good party. While I think my sympathies might lie with Fawkes—seriously, King James’ line was so bad no kings take his name anymore—Saturday night was not the right occasion to mourn freedom fighters. It was a night to set shit on fire.

It's manly dancing, because they have fire.
It's manly dancing, because they have fire.
Hooray for despots and potentates!
Hooray for despots and dictators!

Guy Fawkes in effigy.
The real Guy Fawkes was drawn and quartered; I think the effigy gets off easy.
FIRE!
And, when the covering is burned off, it is revealed that Guy Fawkes is, in fact, Satan.

By comparison, today—Remembrance Day—was a bit more sober. For the last few weeks, there’s been a blossoming (semi-literally) of red poppies, worn on the lapels, in honor of those that died in war from 1914 to 1918. I’m not entirely sure what inspired my decision, but I decided to attend Remembrance Day services in Worcester’s Anglican chapel.

It was the first time in my entire life that I’ve ever voluntarily gone to church and—though it damages my rebel credibility—I’ll admit that I was really glad I went. Worcester has a proper boys choir, and their choice of music and the acoustics of the chapel created an appropriate tenor for the services, in which the bishop gave a thoughtful sermon on the meaning of sacrifice. Like so many things here, Anglican religiosity feels very muted and subtle, which allowed me some time to take a deep breath and reflect in silence.

I almost cried when the bugler started playing the British version of “Taps,” and the Provost read the lengthy list of individuals from the college who died in the war. Knowing that they lived in the same dorms, ate in the same hall, and sat in the same pews just overwhelmed me. There was no jingoistic “We saved freedom!” sort of rhetoric like we are force-fed in the United States. Everything said in the service seemed to reflect a realization that World War I—and all those deaths—was just a waste. While my mind would inevitably have connected what we heard to the War in Afghanistan, I didn’t need to, because the vicar mentioned it several times.

Before we left, we read together:

Let peace fill our hearts,
Our world,
Our universe.

I know I could rail about the hypocrisyof the church or the futility of appealing to some higher power for peace rather than creating it ourselves, but I like they sentiment they express enough to let the words sit.

Our cultures create such a cornucopia of ways, ranging from the absurd to the gut-wrenchingly emotional, to remember the past. And yet it seems like our politics and policies are all about forgetting.

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