Remembrance Day is always significant, when we remember those who laid down their lives and wear poppies in memory of those who died in the two world wars. It’s a day not just to remember what happened before most of our lives began, but also to think about what is happening now, in parts of the world where servicemen and women are dying with harrowing frequency. But, even though most weeks we hear the Prime Minister offer his condolences for the most recently fallen, what has happened in Iraq and what continues in Afghanistan can seem removed from our daily lives.
Last week, the BBC website reported that some of our politicians are too large – too large, that is, to go to Afghanistan . Ulster Unionist peer Ken Maginnis and DUP MP David Simpson have not been allowed to make a visit to armed forces because the military do not have flak jackets big enough. As powerful as these two gentlemen might feel within the corridors at Westminster , the powers that be within the Ministry of Defence have decreed that, without the right protection, there can be no trip.
While the story raises a wry smile, it reminds me that when I hear another news story about a car bomb in Baghdad, or an IED device exploding in Helmand, there is a little selfish part of me grateful that the news is not about Northern Ireland – that my life is not being disrupted.
It reminds me that that every day men and women are putting their lives on the line out of service to their country in Afghanistan, Iraq and less well-known places in the world. Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of military action, and these battles in particular, there is no doubt that those on the front line demonstrate bravery and courage as they go about their ‘everyday’ work. Another selfish part of me thinks that I’m glad that it is them out there and not me.
It makes me think of the discipline of being a soldier: the importance of being in the right place at the right time (being late is not an option); that others rely on you to have played your part to the best of your ability to ensure that they can do the same; the value of staying fit and healthy in body and mind; being able to react as quickly and wisely as possible in any given situation. The outcome really is life or death.
Which made me reflect on my own readiness for battle: not in this world, but with powers and principalities in the world unseen. Through Christ our victory is secure, but that is no excuse for complacency in the battles faced each day. Temptation to be selfish and lazy, to shirk responsibility or put myself first might seem inconsequential at the time, but every battle won – or lost – has eternal significance.
I do hope that Lord Maginnis and David Simpson make it out to Afghanistan some time soon. It might be a small act, but it must be an encouragement for servicemen and women to know that they have not been forgotten, and that someone has made the effort to visit them. In the meantime, I’ll be thinking about the small acts I must perform to play my part in the battle.
Karen Jardine - Former Public Affairs Officer for Northern Ireland