For what would you give your life?

For what would you give your life? Photo: Natalie Grono

Anzac Day. Think of war and soldiers and legacies. Think of suffering and redemption. Think of loved ones left behind, and hearts broken on battlefields every which way. And then think of sacrifice. Of paying the ultimate price. Think of giving your life for your country – for home and hearth and honour.

What would you be willing to die for? For whom, or for what cause, would you lay your body down? Would you give your life for the ones you love? Should you?

We live in a very lucky country, but it is easy to lose sight of the fact. There are improvements that can and should be made, there are inequalities that must be remedied and there are painful tears in the fabric of our history that still need mending.

But there is no terrifying war beyond our front doors. We aren’t asked to sell our children, or shoot our brothers, or watch as our mothers are raped and murdered because a higher power decreed it so. Here, there are roofs for heads and bread for baskets. We’re pulling fortune from the ground, and filling young minds with the riches of knowledge. Our environment is relatively healthy. Our politicians are relatively honest. Our society is relatively free.

And while some agitate for better ways, some protest; some vote and some volunteer, many complain and moan, many are ungrateful, and many care only for themselves. To be sure so much is as it has been, but it is also much easier to whinge when the living is easy. And we live easier now than they did then. We may feel worse off; we are surrounded by wealth.

We’re also surrounded by people. We live with an abundance of other bodies, all trying to live and work and play. We are all looking for some kind of love, all hoping for happiness, all desperate to connect. The connections we make are a source of pride, but the connections we miss are hurtful. They are also often and obvious, writ large through ‘social’ media.

Then, do we value those who are special more or less? Do we treasure the people we say we love as much as the millions we wished loved us? What would we be prepared to do to keep our close ones close, and for whose sake?

There is a lot that is healthy about a shift away from a values system that sent young men off to die. Part of the healthiness speaks to the same social changes that have allowed women into workforces, even the military should they choose. Changes that moved us away from top-down to bottom-up, from feudal hangovers to democratic partying; changes that put equality ahead of nobility, and interchanged chivalry with chauvinism.

We see not all these changes were for our betterment. Some say we’ve changed our social order for the worse. Some say young men are more maligned now than when they were going to war. Some say young women are still as embattled as ever. But how have these changes affected our relationships with each other? Are our bonds stronger in this time of freedom and comparative safety?

Some days, after long days of work or long arguments with children, even the smallest act of tender kindness can seem like a stretch. Expressions of intimacy once willingly engaged with become almost tedious chores – you tend to your lover with the same sense of obligation shown to your garden or email inbox. There are moments of intense, special feeling, but there are many moments of mildness. Comfort and numbness, beige and bored – what hope does red passion have?

So, going beyond grey, going back to black and white, could you, would you give yourself for another? Do you feel love that is bigger than life itself? And is it right to glorify this notion of ultimate sacrifice – is it a gift or a waste?

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kfeeney@fairfaxmedia.com.au