Mass death is a tragedy and significant too: it is ironic that, at a time when many in the world remember the men and women who have died in service to their country, the Philippines lose many thousands of their countrymen overnight through Typhoon Haiyan. There is no such thing as coincidence.
As the death toll rises in a faraway, low-lying archipelago, desperately in need of help, Remembrance Day and Armistice Day merge together for these 24 hours to enable those who choose to reflect upon and remember lives lost in war: to think about the nature of war and why it occurs, decimating as it does generations of young people; and to think about the nature and reason for death itself. I wonder how many people commemorating past war losses were thinking not just about those they knew, perhaps, but also of those dying in great numbers now, just when they were remembering the past.
[caption id="attachment_2180" align="alignright" width="150"] Hurtebise War Monument[/caption]
How or why we die does not matter, it is the fact of its occurrence that does. Young men destined to die on a battlefield have died in the Philippine floods instead, just as some of those who died on the Somme would have ended their lives early anyway. A wave of mass deaths whether in the Twin Towers, a 1916 battlefield or in a tsunami is significant as a human tragedy, certainly, and as a lesson, too, to those who remain, teaching perhaps about the folly of conflict, the importance of honouring life while it is there, and of the pre-eminence of nature. For the individual, the death is the gift of freedom and the certainty of new life – it is the start of a new journey. Every death teaches us something, if we choose to look.
Meanwhile, it is right to mourn and remember those who are gone, in the Philippines, this weekend, and those who died so long ago in war, to remember too those who have left quietly at this time, father, husband, child, wife or pet, but who are much missed: for each of them, the act of love will be balm to the soul, as it is to those who live on, for now.