On Saturday I went to see the incredible First and Second World War exhibitions at the Armed Forces and Military Museum of Brussels. Being the day before Remembrance Sunday in the year that marks one hundred years since the outbreak of World War One, the visit was both timely and especially poignant. I’ve always felt passionately about ensuring we remember the monstrously large number of people killed in service ‘for their country’ in the two world wars, and as each year passes and more veterans of those wars die I feel even more strongly that my generation has a duty to each and every one of those fallen soldiers, without whom we might now be living in a very different society.
It is beyond me that anyone could fail to be moved by their sacrifice, though I am painfully aware we do live in a world where people all too often turn the other cheek, caring only about themselves and their own selfish endeavours. Such people doubtless fail to comprehend the bravery and suffering of those soldiers – many of them little more than children – who went to war all those years ago, knowing in their hearts they might never see their loved ones again, that they would likely die in the dirt, riddled with bullets and alone, their lives snuffed out like the candles they huddled around for warmth on those countless and interminably long nights in their bunkers.
It saddens me that wars are still going on around the world, that children are still being used on the front line and that, in some respects, we seem to have learned nothing from the atrocities that happened in the two world wars. But this is a personal and not a political post, the point of which is not to refute the age old arguments for war but rather to remember those who have fallen in it – not just in the first and second world wars but in every war that has, and is, taking place around the world. Because in forgetting those people, in allowing war and its ghastly and tragic slew of victims to become an acceptable loss in the pursuit of a ‘peace’ that never seems to come, we are, fundamentally, denying our own humanity. And without humanity there is no hope at all – and all those sacrifices will, ultimately, be for nothing.
A year ago today someone very special was taken from this world in the worst possible way, leaving a deep chasm of grief in his wake. For his family, his girlfriend and his friends life would never be the same again; there would forever be a Paul-shaped void. Of course life does, inevitably, move on – it has to, for despite its power even grief can’t stop the world from spinning on its axis – but time, though a healer of sorts, can never erase the pain of such a shocking and untimely loss.
I only knew Paul for a short time, but he made a big impact on me, as I know he did on all the many others that he met along the rollercoaster ride that was his life. Yesterday I was so happy to be reunited with his girlfriend Sarah, for whom the past year has been difficult beyond words, but who has shown such admirable strength of spirit in the midst of her grief. Nothing will ever make up for the loss of Paul, but one thing is certain: He may be gone, but his exuberance, charm and joie de vivre will never be forgotten.
Today I went to Birmingham for the funeral of my good friend’s dad. It was sad and uplifting in equal measures, sad because Brian no longer walks amongst us and he will be sorely missed by those who loved him, and uplifting because so many people turned out to pay their respects. Brian was a larger than life character, and it’s always those people who leave the biggest hole when they pass away. I didn’t know him well, but I knew him well enough to know he would have thoroughly appreciated every moment of today, from the sympathetic vicar who delivered the ceremony in exactly the way he had specified before he died, to the inordinately large volume of champagne that was drunk in his beautifully sunny garden afterwards. I know he would have loved the fact that everyone had come together to raise a glass in his honour, and above all else I know he would have been hugely proud of his son, my friend, who has borne his father’s untimely passing with such strength and courage, helped in no small part by his gorgeous fiancé and wonderful family.
It’s on occasions like today I realise how important it is to count blessings. When I looked around me in the crematorium, which was lined wall to wall with people, I really felt the value of the life that had been lost. I like to think I live my own life well enough to ensure a decent turn out to my own send-off, whenever that might be, but that’s not to say I can’t do more in whatever time I have left on this mortal coil to positively contribute to others’ lives, to make them feel valued, supported and loved as they have me. I felt particularly grateful today at the wake, when I recognised the fantastic and extensive support network of friends I still have from university – not something everyone can claim to have sustained a decade after graduation. This friendship group is special and, despite not getting together nearly as often as we’d like, it is also lasting. I know I’m being a soppy cow but sometimes it’s just nice to take a moment to reflect on all the good things. And I’m sure that somewhere up there in the ether, glass of champagne in hand, Brian Simonite is doing just that too. Cheers, Brian.