We were all ages gathered at the Cenotaph. Children in strollers, elderly in wheelchairs. Bundled up against the crisp November air, we stood in the bright sunshine under a clear blue sky and paid our respects.
The wires holding the flag on high clapped against the flagpole, the Maple Leaf flapped in the breeze. Bagpipes whined a mournful tune and the honour guard stood on watch, heads bowed as dignitaries slowly walked up to the base of the statue of the Unknown Soldier and laid their wreaths.
C.C. and my youngest daughter and I waited and watched and listened and stood in silence as the words of John MacCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields, echoed through the air.
The poppies were blowing in the wind yesterday. They shifted place, were lifted up by the breeze and moved from one ledge to the next of the base at the foot of the statue of a soldier without a name, standing on guard, in some unknown time to mark their place.
The poppies blow.
We had given a ride to one of the men from The Madison. He was there to lay a wreath on behalf of The Poppy Fund. “Did you hear my name called out?” he asked when he joined us after the ceremony. “I wasn’t expecting that.” And I could hear the pride, the sense of honour for the tribute paid him.
“I saw Mike* laying a wreath,” I said. And he told me that Alpha House, the program operator at The Madison, lays one every year on behalf of the veterans who now call The Madison home. There are 15 formerly homeless veterans living at The Madison. In total, the Calgary Homeless Foundation houses 49 veterans, with Veteran’s Affairs listing 65 individuals within the sector known to be veterans.
It is a mighty toll to pay for serving your country.
I asked my daughter yesterday why she makes a point of coming to the Remembrance Day ceremonies with me every year. “Two reasons,” she replied. “One, it’s a way to show gratitude for what Canada has contributed to the world, and two, it’s an important day and this shows I know it. It’s more than just a day off work to go shopping.”
My friend John McMahon wrote in his comment to yesterday’s blog,
“Today I think of my Uncle Guerard De Nancrede. He was my hero as a young boy. Pilot, father, brother, uncle, grandfather and rakish good looking guy whom I believe never could find anything in his after WW2 life to compare with the experience of being at war. Like you imply, being at war with an enemy, often times yourself in a prisoner of war camp of memory, is a horrid price to pay for doing the “right thing” even if it is not the “right thing”. Ambiguous words for an ambiguous struggle.”
As I looked around the crowd yesterday, as I watched news reports on TV of the ceremonies around the country, John’s words echoed through my mind. Memory serves us well. It erases the ambiguity of what happened and leaves only the reminders of the necessity of what we did in the name of doing the right thing.
I don’t like war. I don’t like guns and killing and fighting and shedding blood to create peace. I’ve never been able to understand how killing another can bring lasting peace. For every mother’s child who is killed a seed of anguish is sown in the hearts of every family. How do we make sense of losing a loved one in the name of war and peace?
And yet, it is important to stand on guard for those who have fought so that we can know our freedoms today. It is important to honour their names so that their sacrifices will not be in vain.
And it makes me sad. I stood and looked at the crowd, I listened to the voices of the dignitaries, I listened to the pipes and the clanging of the metal tie-downs against the flagpole and I yearned for a day when the list of names of those who went off to war would no longer lengthen. I yearned for a day when the lessons learned from the wars we’ve fought would be lived through true and lasting peace.
Let peace be our destiny. Let Love be the way.