Monday, November 12, 2007

Writing and Remembrance – Wright

Remembrance Day reminds me of the importance of writing down memories before they evaporate. My father flew in the First World War during a time when training lasted a few weeks and the lives of pilots were cheap. He flew surveillance flights over the German lines so troops on the ground would know where German defenses were strong or weak. He survived to marry and raise four boys. But I have no written account of his life. A few stories have survived. Of his stunt flight under the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. Of the family who billeted him in England. Little else. My older brother, with whom he probably talked about his experiences is beyond recalling them.

Two of my older brothers were in the Canadian forces in World War II. And yet nothing is written. Norman, my oldest brother, served as an aircraft mechanic here in Canada. I remember from my childhood his skill at creating models, especially the model of a Mosquito bomber.

Bruce, my second oldest brother, served with the Canadian army, as far as I know, in the Burma campaign. He was a radar operator during the early days of that innovation. Beyond gaining a vague sense of the horror of fighting against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma, I have little understanding of his suffering. That he did suffer, is sure. Just the other day I learned that he had been a guerilla fighter in the Burmese jungles tasked with plane spotting for the allies.

The emotional scars Bruce carried with him could only be surmised by his struggles to integrate into civilian society. Fortunately, he came to faith in Christ before he left us. But no written memories remain. What did he experience? How did he understand war and suffering? What stories would he tell about India and Burma? All I have to remember him by is a carved teak elephant and a fragment from a Japanese Zero.

Which brings me down to our day. What is it like in Iraq—in Afghanistan? Should we be there or not? Much ink is being spilled on either side of these issues. Here is where fiction is serving us well. No one should render a judgement about Afghanistan without reading, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, along with the dark book, The Swallows of Kabul. And the Reluctant Fundamentalist can do much to help us understand 9/11 from an Americanized Muslim perspective.

But I’m straying from my personal sorrow about lack of information about my own family. Fortunately, my wife Mary Helen, is compiling a memoir about our family life that she can pass on to our children and grandchildren. Memories are important. People live and disappear. For most, a tombstone is not enough. Hence the importance of writers.

Eric E. Wright

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