Je Me Souviens. That’s what Quebec license plates say. This saying got legs in 1883, when Eugène-Etienne Taché designed the Quebec National Assembly. Over the main entrance he carved the words “Je me souviens” right beside the Québec coat of arms, in case you missed it. It’s armed language because of its ambiguity. Some interpret the saying as a eulogy to the British administration. The French dug in with a bit of revenge of the cradle, history’s best salvo, as they continue to live and perpetuate their own culture. The “me” is reflexive in the saying. It’s a self-reference for those who might otherwise forget themselves. Written by a coat of arms, it’s a throw down.
Say what you will of French people, they have a sense of their own identity and history. Technically they are a conquered nation, which explains why when you will call any government office from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island someone will answer “Bonjour”. It’s because they remembered enough for it to count. They didn’t cede victory in their minds for what happened on the Plains of Abraham long ago, and all battles are primarily mental before they become material.
Dictums like this have power, after the manner of “next year in Jerusalem”, a saying that fronted each Sabbath dinner for Jews all over the world throughout history. Next year in Jerusalem eventually become this year in Jerusalem because enough people believed it all together. And that’s the thing, belief points you toward something bigger. There is a verse in Psalm 137 where God echoes the same sentiment. “ If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.” He is remembering his vow to Jacob, the covenant Christians inherited.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). That’s Christ fighting on our behalf on the Cross. The victory over evil, is his resurrection. Christianity is of course, the Truth that could not be buried, literally. That Truth rose up on the third day, and still stands in human history as the one Truth that no king or emperor could upend no matter the level of persecution. The soteriological theory of Christus Victor, is Christ doing battle for us on the Cross. It’s where Heaven and earth collide, when incarnated flesh came in harm’s way in the battle against evil. The victory was won when sacrificial blood was shed.
The very idea of fighting has known better times. You can see it in popular movies which carry the zeitgeist of the day. I was reminded of this after viewing “The Last Duel”, a true medieval story which comes down to us through history where a French knight put his life on the line to uphold the honour of his lady. His battle to the death would allow God to decide who was telling the truth. The heroism of this movie was buried in “me too” bludgeoning, which like a parasite, merely used the original story as host. Once the carcass of that story was devoured, they unleashed the intended message. The movie portrayed both combatants as vain and selfish. The woman they were fighting over outlived them, and in the movie version at least, “lived happily ever after”. This is a modern fairy tale, created not to buttress belief, but to bury it. We are merely supposed to genuflect to the nihilistic piffle of Hollywood.
Stories of knights and dragons and honour take us back to some primal literature, Knights of the Round table, which details the search for the holy grail which held Christ’s blood. They were searching for something that bridged heaven and earth… the blood of sacrifice. We remember it in the pitched battle between good and evil which still rages on. We remember that as long as we are still here on earth we are engaged in that fight, against principalities and powers, and even sometimes in opposition to the rulers of the day.
Canadian author Michael D. O’Brien has an interesting book “A Landscape With Dragons”. His children once asked him if dragons were real. They were seeing bogeymen at night and monsters under the bed. O’Brien had to think about it. It would be silly to tell kids that dragons are not real, because dragons embody something larger and darker. He told his children, that what they were seeing is an image of a greater truth, but they must not fear it. They should instead become strong and understand how to fight it. G K Chesterton has weighed in with much the same sentiment. “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
It’s a lesson we should be looking at more closely today. There are dragons that stalk the land. They roam freely, if heroes sit down when they should stand and fight. In times like these, it is good to remember that evil here on earth occasionally needs to be resisted, and put to rout. Lest we forget. Je me souviens. It’s a battle cry… at least, it should be. Is once a year enough? On the eleventh hour of the day, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I will remember. To my mind it’s about a quarter to midnight, in case anyone else out there forgot.