The most significant event for me this week wasn’t the Scottish referendum, or the unusually balmy(and barmy!) September weather or even J Lo’s new music video (please don’t watch it if you already haven’t – especially if you’re a woman and already despair at the constant, demeaning portrayals we are bombarded with; actually, don’t watch it if you’re a man either. Your eyes will fall out. At least, they nearly will and you will hate your mysogynistic self for at least an hour).
What really moved me this week was a short visit by an old gentleman to the Jospice charity shop where I work. He entered the shop quite unobtrusively and handed over a pair of freshly laundered trousers he had placed neatly in a carrier bag. He explained that he had lost a lot of weight recently and would like to donate them, which we gratefully received. He has come to the shop several times with donations; the clothes are always freshly laundered and carefully folded in their bag. This day, he had another bag with him.
“Can I just show you something?” he asked quietly. Of course, my co-worker and I agreed. He removed a small, gilt-edged photo frame from the bag. It was a photograph of him receiving a generous handshake from Prince Charles, both resplendent in their military uniform. Genuinely impressed and touched by his willingness to share with us his obviously special moment, we both congratulated him and thanked him for bringing the photograph in to show us. He had attended the World War commemorations in Normandy a couple of months previously and lamented over the dwindling numbers of veterans and how he had left military life prematurely as his wife had requested. We thanked him again for bringing the photograph in to show us; he carefully placed the photo frame back in the bag and left the shop. I watched as he walked away, noticing the clothes that hung desperately to his obviously diminishing frame and felt so sad at his growing frailty and thought about the gradual demise of his generation.
Although I have no tolerance of war (especially today’s ‘campaigns’ that appear to be more propaganda-based and fuelled by greed and the acquisition of oil supplies) I am nevertheless in awe of the First and Second World War veterans, civilians and soldiers alike. They endured sacrifice, hardship, loss and devastation on a scale we can only try to imagine. They did all this and yet without any professional counselling and very little or no significant financial help or support. Whilst I would never advocate mine or future generations experience such similar horrors, it does lead me to believe that deprivation is good for the soul, however cruel. They ARE a dying breed, the war generation. That makes me so sad. For I don’t think we ever really let them know how wonderful they truly are; their strength coupled with their humility is endearing and inspiring at the same time. If only Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong was compulsory reading in all comprehensive schools – there can’t be a much better insight into the hell that was the trenches in the First World War. We need to remember them, always.
That brings to mind the contrast with our world today; the victory that was ours in 1945 prevented a whole new, Ayran landscape forming. Our world, our country, is racially diverse and all the better for it. The blending of cultures, creeds and customs is the only recipe for our beautiful planet. We have to embrace progress – which means welcoming change. This may not be what a lot of people want to hear but those wonderful men and women, who are no longer with us, sacrificed their own prosperity and all too often their lives to create the world we have now. We in the West are very often cosseted and spared the suffering some nations endure on a constant basis – that old man reminded me how lucky we are and how much we owe him. Lest We Forget.