Sunday, November 11, 2012
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,."
When I was eight years old, I carried the Canadian flag in the Remembrance Day parade for our Brownie unit. I can't really remember when I realized the importance of November 11 but I can only imagine that somewhere between learning about that day at school and taking part in a very solemn ceremony that it must have been ingrained in my head to always mark this day.
"That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly"
I remember growing up, the assemblies at school, always with a older veterans, in those days many from both World Wars, would attend. When I got to high school, I remember not being able to fathom how these decorated men and women, had once been my age, had once stood up and fought, and had made these decisions during the same years I would try to decide which route to take from English to Science just to maybe catch a glimpse of my current crush.
"Scarce heard amid the guns below."
Travelling through Europe, I think there was always a running theme in the back of my head connected to this period in history. Granted, it makes sense that many of these places -- England, France, Germany, Italy -- would have been such different places had either of the World Wars gone a different way. And I guess, it's no surprise, that as a traveller, many of the ways you encountered a European city was through it's history, including it's recent past.
"We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,"
My heart feels heavy when I think of the modern wars that our brave men and women are out there, fighting for many reasons, but most of all, for the benefit of all humankind. That today, even almost 100 years since the start of the first World War, there are still Canadians fighting, Canadian parents worrying about their sons and daughters, Canadian husbands and wives waiting for their partners to return home. Canadian children putting on brave faces as they perform in school plays, score the winning goal in the game, bring home reports cards, all to only one of their parents.
In British Columbia, November 11 is a holiday, as it is in most other provinces across the country, minus Ontario, which is why, as an adult, I never really had the opportunity to really take the day to reflect. No one was really leaving work in the middle of the day to got to parades. You'd catch it on the evening news, and for the most part, it was almost sad to see the lack of people out by the cenotaphs -- simply men and women in uniform, laying wreaths, their bodies present but their eyes revealing their spirits were somewhere else.
"Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields."
I cherish the time off to reflect on this day now. We have made it a tradition to go down to the parade, take part in the ceremony and pay our respects. It's always been a day that moved me but as the years go by, I find I'm more and more affected by its meaning.
"Take up our quarrel with the foe:"
Today, as we waited for the bugle to sound to mark the moment of silence, a fierce gust of wind billowed through the streets, through the crowd and shook the orange-leaved maple tree in my direct line of sight. I was overcome with the sensation that those who were lost, were here, they were all here, letting us know that time does not diminish them, that they have all the strength they did all those years ago, that they are still here.
"To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high."
And so the wind overtook me and so did my emotions. Tears started down my face. I smiled. I cried. I sighed. I breathed them in. I watched that tree the entire ceremony. I thought of the sacrifice. I thought of the young people in the parade, standing their in uniform, stoic-faced and terrifically frozen -- with fear, with cold, with reflection. I thought that they are young, as so many soldiers were when they chose to fight. Young and brave.
"If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."
And I remembered.
Poem, "In Flanders Fields", Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae