Remembrance Day here in Canada. My husband and I went to the downtown Vancouver ceremony at Victory Square. It rained; somehow it just isn’t right if it doesn’t rain for Remembrance Day celebrations. In a way, the cold grey splatter of rain is a comfort for those of us who cry in the open without shame.
I always have such mixed feelings on Remembrance Day. Today is no different. War itself seems such a terrible waste of resources, energy, money, and life. And still, we must hate the war but love the warriors. Their country called and they stood up for all of us.
Nothing in this world demonstrates more clearly our colossal failure to communicate on a global level than war. It is to our profound shame as citizens of this planet that to this day, with all the technology we have developed, we can still feel such unbearable disagreement with each other on a national level that we send our fittest and most promising youth out to kill each other.
There are windows in the eyes of old soldiers. During these ceremonies, if you are brave enough to look, there are a few short moments when these heroes feel brave enough to let you glimpse the horror they remember, the horror they fought to keep you from ever having to see. I see the soldiers’ windows open up and I break down into pieces. I cannot bear to be this brave for even a moment, and still, I am grateful for the glimpse. It lets me appreciate their sacrifice, and how sweet and beautiful my life has been because of it.
Standing there out in the rain, I feel a light wash of responsibility glance over me. I somehow feel the need to be mindful of my posture. My strong body stiffens to a soldier’s stance; we all do this, I think; all of us transmogrify momentarily into soldiers of some real or imagined battle – just pick a war; the players and the reasons change but the process is always driven by the same machine. In unison, our eyes follow the tight formation of the commemorative flypast. I forget to breathe.
My feet are planted firmly in the muddy ground while child-like, during this short hiccup on a grey November day, I play-act in my mind how it might feel to be a soldier. I stand, shell-shocked, looking over a troop of kindred spirits. My undisciplined mind contemplates my make-believe battles in the gym, where I prepare for combat with imaginary foes as I push myself a little harder, where conjured rage mixes with a little bit of very real fear as I get under a bar that threatens to be more than I can lift – but only if I let it win.
It is such a farce, this iron battle fought by a paper soldier. I feel so small. Nothing I do in my soft, comfortable life can ever mimic the acrid reality of one battlefield minute.
Small children – not yet aware of why they are in a muddy field in the rain, listening to guns and bagpipes – are hushed and soothed by parents who likely never knew war themselves.
It is our collective responsibility that this newest generation carries forward the memory that ensures not one soldier died in vain. We owe them that much.
We owe them so much more than this.
We can never repay this debt.
The persistence of memory across time gives their sacrifice meaning. In fact, it is the only thing that ever can.