Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: a motto I learnt at school, without the benefit of Wilfred Owen’s poem, and it was brought out every armistice day. It is quite poignant for me that today, at the end of armistice week, Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest. I had heard the news a few days ago that this may be about to happen but I refused to allow myself to ponder on the hope of it. During the past 20-odd years, whenever I have seen her face, read of her and her country’s plight or heard her name, my heart has been seized with an unnameable grief. This morning, when I opened the Sunday papers and saw the front page, Free At Last, I was choked. What a coward I am that I could not even cope with the promise of this in case it never happened. I am no Aung, I have not her energy, her strength of resolve or her convictions. Even if I had the latter I do not know that I would ever have been able to suffer the loss of my family, as she has, for my country. I read that she told her husband at the very beginning that their family may be compromised for the sake of her historical responsibility. How does one hear that and still continue? As much as I admire Aung San Suu Kyi I have to accept that she was always aware where her destiny would lead her, but her husband – my throat closes up. I would die for my family, without a second thought, but would I be able to give them up for something else?
It is lacking in today’s society – a complete and utter devotion to one’s country. National identity is not taught in school, indeed the contrary is true. ‘Britishness’ or even a British identity is not encouraged. It stinks of the fascist, union jack-waving, bovver-boot wearing, skinhead marches. To be proud to be British seems to imply an automatic disdain for other cultures when being British should be upheld as the epitome of unity, of cultural diversity.
The parable in the bible when Abraham is asked to slaughter his son to demonstrate his devotion to God, is upheld as righteous and saintly but if anyone were to do it now they would be sent to prison for it is not a concept that we understand or acknowledge. to die for your country – you will either get paid for that or imprisoned depending on the side you are fighting for. Religion is fought over, oil is fought over, while human rights and democratic principles remain the straggling, limping runners in the race for recognition. I pay my dues to Amnesty International, and on Amnesty day I wear my badge, because I believe it is the right thing to do, and then I go home and sleep easy for I have done my bit. I have participated, I have ‘given’. Shame on me that I give so little for those who have given so much.
Then I see someone like Aung and I hang my head. I say I would die for my family, but they do not need that. Words such as those are easy enough to say when I know that the likelihood of my ever being asked to prove it is slim to none. But how deep is my devotion, I ask myself? Certainly if any member of my family woke me at 2 o’clock in the morning and asked me to go shopping for medicine because they didn’t feel well, then I would do it; but, again, how likely and often is that to occur? Every day, every hour of every day, is when my devotion to my family is tested and I fail many, many times. When my son asks me for the umpteenth time to tie his laces (because when he does them they don’t stay tight); when my daughter asks me straighten her hair just as I’ve sat down with a cup of tea; when my husband demands to know why I haven’t considered his dinner while I’ve been rushing around doing a dozen other things; these are the times when patience is required, a calm voice and gentle manner to soothe ruffled tempers while you have an internal meltdown and wonder ‘what about me?’. This is when devotion demands that you take a step back from your own needs and do what you can for your family for this is when they need you the most. This time, when you don’t have anything left to give, when you’re tired and down and wondering when you get a look in, this is when devotion plays its weightiest card and you have to see it and play to stay in the game.
Forget ‘I would die for you’. Try ‘I will do anything for you when I am at my lowest’. That is what is see in the eyes of Aung San Suu Kyi. That is devotion.