But as we left the store, the questions began...along with my attempt to provide some clarity to his inquisitive mind:
L: “Why the poppy dad?”
Me: “To remember those who have died in war”
L: Why should we remember?
Me: (trying to keep it simple) “Because they died and gave up a lot. It's sad that they’re gone.”
L: Why is it sad?
Me: (deep breath) “Lots of people die in wars, missing out on a lot in life. And we miss them.”
L: Why is that sad?
Me: (with this question I consider changing the subject - e.g. “Want some candy?” Instead, I dare a response) “Think of the great day we just had as a family? War takes that away for many people."
L: So the bad guys win sometimes?
Me: (Candy anyone!?!) “Well, it’s not that simple. All countries have bad guys and good guys. People die on all sides and it's sad either way...God never wanted us to fight to begin with, but we can't to get along. The poppy helps us remember this and the people in our country who have died because of it."
At this point I think he brought up candy, which I was more than happy to oblige as a new topic of conversation.
I’m not sure if I satisfied his questioning or if I was satisfied with my answering. Our dialogue highlights how difficult it is to make sense of death and war, but not just for a 6-year-old - for all of us.
|Great Great Uncle Frank Bergen - RCAF WWII|
L: “Do we know anyone who went to war a long time ago?”
Me: “I don't think so. Most of our family in the olden days didn't fight in wars. They didn't think it was right, so they did others things (like work in hospitals or forests). Oh wait, I think one of your Grandma’s uncles was in WWII, your great great uncle Frank.
L: “Uncle Frank?”
L: “Can I talk to him to say thank you for fighting?”
Me: “He actually died earlier this year.”
L: (As only a literalist 6-year-old would respond) “They killed him!?!"
Me: “No, after the war he came back and was a farmer, had a family, and had grown old. He was over 90 when he died."
L: “I wish I could thank him. I'm gonna tell God to say thank you for me” (he proceeds to look up and tell God to pass along the message).
I'm not too sure how to process this interaction with my son. As one who is firmly committed to active nonviolent peacemaking, I always feel a tension around Remembrance Day. But I also realize that my great uncle Frank's decision to go to war left him ostracized by many in his family and community. Mennonites weren't supposed to fight. Social violence was his reward - this was how he was remembered. I don't want that to be how my son remembers. Which is why I didn't discourage my son's engagement with Remembrance Day and wanting to thank his great great uncle Frank. It takes great courage to stand up and fight. And yes, it also takes great courage to stand up and not fight. We need to remember both. War is never as simple as fighting or not fighting, or as simple as good vs. evil. War is complicated. War is painful. And as we reflect on the legacy of veterans and our loved ones, it’s personal.
I wish I could have brought my son to see his great great uncle Frank to say thank you in person. Hopefully God passed along the message...