In Flanders Fields: You Only Live Once
photo by Tjololo Photo
Written By

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
— John McCrae

YOLO. You only live once — an optimistic incentive or a stark warning? The phrase seems intended to encourage us to make the most of each moment, and yet, it is also a remarkably unsentimental statement on the inevitability of death. 

You only live once. These days — these minutes — known as life are fleeting and passing us by as we speak.

Ours is a generation that detests the very idea of aging and death. We Botox away our wrinkles. We dye away the grey in our hair. We’ll buy and do anything to maintain an illusion of youth and vitality. But it’s not enough to erase the merely visible signs of old age, so we attempt to escape our mortality in other ways.

We want to create an enduring legacy and make a name for ourselves, so we seek success and far-reaching influence by attempting to break world records, develop the next big technological breakthrough, or create crowd-pleasing memes, YouTube channels, and blogs. We engage ourselves with endless entertainment, diverting our attention away from the questions that would otherwise keep us up at night. Rarely do we allow ourselves a reprieve from the noise, the busyness, the distractions of daily life. 

But one day a year, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Canadians take a moment of solemn silence, pausing from everyday affairs, to remember those who sacrificed their lives on our behalf in wars past and present. Notably resonant for many Canadians has been Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” a First World War poem often recited during Remembrance Day ceremonies. The second stanza in particular reflects on the abrupt nature of death, contrasting the vibrancies of life — to live, to feel dawn, to see the sunset, to experience love — with the perceived dormancy of death. The dead remain inert, lying in graves in a field where poppies continue to grow above. 

Many of us choose to honor those who died in war because we recognize that their sacrifice secured peace on our behalf. We experience freedom and life as we know it at the cost of shed blood and this is not something to quickly forget or take for granted. 

Remembrance Day serves to remind me of another, even greater, sacrifice made on my behalf. Personally, as a Christian, I can’t help but see a parallel to the cross of Jesus Christ, the very son of God, who, though innocent, shed his own precious blood and died in my place so that I might have forgiveness and peace with God and life that is lasting, eternal. As Jesus himself once said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).   

Like John McCrae’s well-known poem, Remembrance Day ought also to cause us to reflect on what makes life worth living and even sacrificing. We ought to consider how to best live our remaining days. We ought to look beyond futile measures of preserving youth and life. We ought to search wholeheartedly for the truly lasting and the truly meaningful. After all, you only live once.