The spirit of Peter Seeger in his song ‘If I had a hammer’ is very appropriate in celebrating the life of Sylvia Sanders. She continued to hammer away with her passion in the peace movement during the difficult Cold War era when the East and the West were literally frozen in a state of war.
Sylvia was one of those rare world citizens who believed that friendly direct relations with peoples of different lands is a powerful deterrent against misunderstanding, confrontation and war. Perhaps it was her early upbringing in Britain that sensitized her to the horror of war. She heard that Britain’s Soviet allies had taken the brunt of the Nazi’s aggression, while in comparison Britain remained almost unscathed. The 25 million Soviets killed is so overwhelming that it is beyond our imagination. From then on she was determined that we the peoples of the world must get rid of the scourge of war.
In Ottawa in the mid-1980s, Sylvia, Roy and Richard regularly attended 17 Living Room Discussions in my home with Soviet speakers. It was a chance to get to know the stranger and learn what it was like to step into the shoes of the other. Her wishes were always to get along with people. She was colour blind to national boundaries.
In the Spring of 1985, Sylvia and her family joined me on an Adventure Peace Tour of the Soviet Union. It was a memorable trip in which we met various groups (such as the Peace Committee and teachers) and individuals in all the major cities of the country. In Leningrad Sylvia walked through the Piskarevskaya Cemetary where a half a million war dead were buried in a mass grave. Therein she understood the meaning of Evgeny Yevtushenko’s famous poem:
‘Ask those who gave the soldier life
Go ask my mother, ask my wife –
Then you will have to ask no more
Say – do the Russians want a war?’
In our meetings Sylvia consistently spoke at every opportunity. Her voice and manner were friendly. As a mother, a wife, and a peace activist Sylvia revealed her central agenda: how to create a win-win scenario and how to get rid of wars once and for all. She sought ways to facilitate disarmament and get on with the task of making a creative and peaceful living for all. Her instinct was a celebration of life.
It is fitting that we are here celebrating the life of one of our wise members of our human family. Sylvia’s closing thoughts ring out like Yevtushenkov’s poem:
‘Be more active,
do your part to save the environment;
stand up against war!’
We are grateful to Sylvia Sanders for reminding us of the meaning of life!