I have been watching some of this week’s coverage of the events around the 75th anniversary of VE Day and have been struck by the very clear memories of those who served in World War II and lived during that time. Even those who were very young can still remember the change in atmosphere as the end of hostilities in Europe was announced. There were street parties and big celebrations but there were also little but very significant things – things like leaving their lights on at night for the first time in nearly 6 years. There was also, of course, uncertainty about what the future would look like – people still missing, grief for those lost in conflict and at home, rations continuing and a general sense of the enormity of the task of getting the country back on its feet.
My paternal grandfather was a very young marine who took part in the D Day landings and I’ve been thinking a lot about his experience over this last week. He must have witnessed unimaginable horrors in Normandy and yet he came back home at the end of his service and he got on with life. He married my grandmother in 1947 and my Dad was born a couple of years after that. Grandad did a variety of jobs over the years – he was a sales rep, he was a police officer and ended up as a club steward. None of it quite like what he must have experienced on the beaches of Northern France. Life went on but, through eyes that had seen such trauma and loss, that life must have looked very different from before.
Someone said to me the other day that I will forever be one of those ministers whose deacon year (the first year of curacy) will have been utterly shaped by the Covid crisis and they were right- in some ways it almost feels like a badge I will always wear for simply doing the work God has called me to in an extraordinary time. But is it a badge I should wear? How much are we to be defined by this moment in history in the way that my grandparents’ lives – and so many others like them – were defined by living through World War II?
We are now waiting with bated breath to see what the easing of this lockdown might look like and while I, like so many, am hankering after something that feels more like the life we had before Covid-19, I don’t think we can expect everything to be as it was before. I don’t just mean that social distancing may have to continue or we may have to travel less for a while, even if those things are true. I mean that we might need to acknowledge that God has used this time, in whatever way we have experienced it, to change us and shape us.
A bit like the clay in the potter’s hands in Jeremiah 18, how are we being remoulded by this season? We will come back to “real” life and life will go on – just like it did for my 19 year old Grandad in 1945. But will we find ourselves changed by that all we have experienced?
We might be determined to have a big celebration once we are able to – and why not? It might be time to gather with friends and family to finally grieve together for someone lost during the crisis – that will be very important too. We might simply find ourselves taking joy in the small things – a hug with a relative, a cup of coffee with a friend, a haircut (definitely one of my top 10!) or a return to more familiar routines – I can’t wait to sit in my office at church again, with all my books and resources immediately to hand, for example! At some point, normal life will resume in some sort of fashion but let’s not expect to feel the same about it as we did before.
Just like those we honoured in this week’s VE Day commemorations, this time will have left us marked by experience, even as life goes on. Let’s instead ask God what he wants us to do with that experience and how he wants us to step out into the world in fresh ways, with new perspective and changed hearts.