Friday, November 20, 2009

Remembrance Day Address, 2009


Anguish is sometimes in the moment. Did you do it? Did you kill? Did you shoot another human being? Did you steal the cookie? Do you smoke dope? Did you steal the money? Should you push the button? And the moment between any one of us doing any such thing, however horrible or slight, is the moment of choice, or not. Sometimes we have no choice, or so I thought.
Just two months ago I was telling my class about the early 70’s, when I was conscripted into the South African Army. Conscription. I had no choice, especially not if I wanted to honour my Family’s expectations that I defend them. Or what of my Pretoria Boys’ High school reputation that we do our cadet training with the purpose of defending our country? Or what of my Church’s urging that we defend ourselves against the anarchy of the devil, communism? Or what of my Country’s belief that racism was to be legalized in the name of Apartheid? The northern borders were to be defended against the warring insurgency of communist-backed rebels wanting to overthrow the white supremacy of our Institutions. They wanted to gain control of our Economy. They wanted to reverse the precious Equilibrium and the very order of more than a century of Colonialism and Nationalism and perpetuated Legalisms of privileges endemic to a white society. And the fact that the whites in question were bent on the self-serving ends of extracting from the invaded country its minerals, its ready and cheap labour force, its blood diamonds and gold was seen as a Right, given the history of nearly two hundred years of occupancy. Sounds a bit like what we’ve done in Canada, no? Yet here the First Nations people are but a small group. Back in Zambia, where I was born and raised, the First Peoples of Africa outnumbered us 20 to 1. And so they rose up against our injustices. They went to war against our perpetuation of incursions upon their freedom, our denial of their dignity, our removal of their opportunity, our economic disincentives for them to prosper. And the wars of Apartheid went on and on. All of my boyhood the war was “up at the border,” and I knew with a certain fearfulness that I would get conscripted to it too. Then, in 1964, we were forced to leave Zambia. Pets were shot. Things were burned. I knew then that one day I too would have to pull the trigger.
“Well, did you kill someone?” a student asked me, just two months ago. I blinked. And in that blink I knew that he did not really want to know if I did it, but if he could do it too. Well, I’ve lived long enough and seen enough to know that even the meekest of you can do it too. That’s what I want to address here: your part in all of this. Your choices! After all, we think we have choice, and then we succumb to the events, to the circumstances, to enforcement, expectations, and to the cultural inculcations of others. We find ourselves a weapon. We decide to use it, and we fire. We fire! We fire with words of hate, with thoughts of vengeance, with blows of anger. We fire with the self that feels defensive of its needs, its wants, its desires, its dignity. We fire back if the self feels its aspirations threatened, its ego quashed, its resources overwhelmed. And it is in you to do so too. It will happen ~ unless we be inclusive, assimilative, integrative; in fact, Bigger than the Moment. It all is a microcosm of the macrocosm; the smallest of things symbolic of the largest. It’s a spiral toward our evolution, the choices we make, one by one, each by each. And one minute of awareness makes all the difference, let alone the choice, moment by moment.
Just ask George Lawrence Price, if you could. He was the last soldier to be shot in World War One, on this month, November 11th, ninety-one years ago. One minute made all the difference. A Canadian, born in Nova Scotia, conscripted (without choice) to the army while he was living in Saskatchewan, George Price was fatally shot in Belgium at 10.59 a.m., just one huge minute before the armistice. One minute! Had some miracle of modern texting, a cell-phone, twittering, or even an ancient carrier-pigeon delivered the essential message that the war was over... would the other have pulled the trigger? Strange how in one minute “the other” is the enemy, and then in another minute by some stroke of the pen, some order from above, some word from beyond, some inner call to the private conscience.... one can altogether stop from pulling that trigger. One minute more, and George may well have lived beyond his 25 years.
25 years old. That’s what I was when I went AWOL (absent without leave) from the South African Army. After five years of conscriptions, in and out again, I came to my senses. I made my decision. I could no longer defend racism. I would no longer fight. In 1975 I stowed-away aboard the S.A. Oranje, a Union Castle steam-ship bound for England. In my renunciation I became a fugitive, an expatriate. When I reached London I borrowed an old Raleigh bicycle, got a tent, a sleeping bag, a knife and a camp-stove and cycled all the way up Britain. I traded my sketches for food and the right to sleep in a field, and even bartered my sketch for a ferry across the sea from the northern tip of Scotland to the Orkney Islands. And there I met a Canadian who suggested I come to Canada as a political refugee. And so, in 1980, I became a most grateful Canadian citizen. I made my choice! But I did not see my mother for over 35 years. Dad died before I could see him. And just 5 years ago my two brothers and our sister and I were re-united.
Choices. You? We all make choices as we move within the elementary needs of the Self; the dictates of the enclosed Family, the esoteric Club, the fixated Clan; our Egoic nature wants to be the best, even it means hurting others; we wrestle with our inability to accept another Group due to their politics, their religion, their beliefs; we need to have others’ admiration, to Control, to Dominate; we desire to have Fairness, and we feel anger and revenge at injustice: we have all these warring things spiralling within us. Well, whether or not knowing life’s subtext of Spiral Dynamics, Psycho-geometrics, the Theory of Positive Disintegration, Integral Holonics, Chaos Theory, or Kohlberg, we operate with likes and dislikes throughout Life. It’s a perpetual dichotomy of Fear, or Love. Choices. Our world is rather a mess because of it. So much around us is fragmentation, divisiveness, and war. Then too, there is heroism, honour, ethics, and love.
Essentially, it comes down to our Choice. And choice, straightforwardly, is about our Evolving, or not, whether conscious of choice, or not. In the act of meta-cognition, in the very practice of thinking about our thinking, we’re able to make decisions before we pull that trigger, before we say that word, throw that punch, or give that attitude. We do have choice! And the death in wars of every person in the long history of hate and enmity toward this very Today is honoured, if we remember: most of us want Peace. As a Goal it began and continued with each of our Fallen. As a Goal it can find its home in you. Peace. It’s about the Choice to be Inclusive, Integrative; in essence: to be Bigger than the moment. Lest we forget. Peace. And please, make good choices!

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