Present Arms

Attention., present arms, slow march, shoulder arms, today is Anzac Day, all around the world people will gather to remember the sacrifices of the past. Here in New Zealand there has been a resurgence, not that long ago it seemed that this remembrance would die away like the Returned Service Men and Women who faithfully gathered on April 25th every year.  For some reason the opposite has happened, at dawn parade this morning there were somewhere around 400 men women and children gathered together on a still morning. The Civic Parade perhaps had a few more.

The speeches are often the same, they never glorify war, I watched as a returned soldier silently wept as a young man spoke about his family’s loss.  You can see eyes being wiped and the expressions are solemn. We speak of people defending our freedom and of democracy, nationhood and other almost mystical subjects.  The young man spoke of his relative coming home from the war, throwing his medals behind a fireplace and saying that’s done with now and apart from one member of the family he never spoke of the war.  Not an uncommon thing to hear.

War is hell, I have often heard, as I stood listening to the service this morning I imagined for a minute that I was in France. As the parade marshal called the orders, a train rumbled by, it wasn’t hard to imagine the battlefield with orders being shouted, machinery moving, gunfire and artillery rounds punctuating the micro silences. The groaning of the wagons and the roar of the engine combined with the orders was just a small glimpse into the hell that war is, we know this and yet we still have war.

As I drove home from the service I passed a phoenix palm, this tree once might, standing tall perhaps 20 metres has been poisoned, it has dropped all of its fronds and is dead, grey and unmoving, yet clinging on to this skeleton were the pigeons.  Now pigeons love these trees, they nest in them and they have a food source. Yet here these pigeons were clinging futilely to this skeleton, yet not far down the road is another thriving, large tree, plenty of room but it is not what they are used to, I mused when will they leave will the trunk have to be taken down?

What you may ask do pigeons and palm trees have to do with Anzac Day?  War has been waged for as long as history has records, and probably longer again.  There is many different theories about war and I don’t profess to have the answers, my own theory is that war, battles, struggle is about resources and usually driven by greed.  This is a basic human drive to compete for resources, scarce or not.

We are often like the pigeons, we cling on to old archaic, dead and decaying ideas and practices.  We can see that our palm tree is dead but we are extremely slow to fly on to another tree.  Some people will never do so they cling onto their troubles, practices, beliefs and actions until someone chops them down from underneath them, even then some have become so moribund that they forget they can fly and fall like the lifeless, grey skeleton and they decay like the tree.

I wonder on this Anzac Day whether you can see any poisoned palm trees in your life, any things you know that are holding you back, keeping you clinging to old habits, actions or beliefs, even in he the overwhelming face of evidence.   I know that I have a few palm trees tucked away and as I reflect on today I hope that we as society can recognise greed, consumerism and excess and see them as dead trees, perhaps we may see a reduction in war.  Perhaps not however I am sure that flying away from my dead palm trees will give me more peace in my heart and compassion for my fellows.

None of this diminishes the need for Anzac Day, we need to remember, give thanks and pray that we don’t see this again, we need to realise that as we rest in our homes that around the world there are a multitude of people for whom the shouts of soldiers and the unholy strident cacophony of sound that is war is real and present right now.




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