A few days ago it was Remembrance Day in Canada. Unlike the usual cold dark drizzle, it was a beautiful morning, and I went down to West Vancouver to the ceremony. I found a spot and stood back, arranging a bit of space around myself.
A bit of space ahead of me there was a dad with his young daughter on his shoulders. The mom stood close with a toddler in a stroller, and as a minute of silence was observed and the bugler played both parents took turns putting their fingers to their mouths gently to the little one, but toddlers aren’t big on being hushed. I thought it was nice that they tried. They looked like such a nice family.
I struggle with this day, how to take it in and how to make sense of what it must have been like living through the wars. I struggle even more now that I have boys — men — who are old enough to have fought. I look at the mostly elderly faces of men and women who wear medals on their chests and wonder about what they saw, endured, had to do, to receive them. It doesn’t line up with today’s challenges of getting kids places, taking the car in for work, figuring out a computer problem. Those things still count, and we do have bigger things than those these days that we have to struggle with and worry over, but it’s like a different language thinking of living somewhere where the sky might bring bombs falling on you, or your home, or your loves. And I simplify writing as if it was just then.
When I started to cry at the ceremony was when the first group of planes flew overhead, for just that reason. The other day in the sunshine we mostly craned our necks to catch the first glimpse of the planes we could hear coming, and we murmured and thought how special that these pilots honour the ceremonies by flying over. But I can’t make sense of hearing that sound and panicking over where your kids are, how far everyone is from shelter, whether that shelter will be enough. Who knows what other thoughts go through at a time like that. I spend a lot of time worrying about my kids, about friends and family but especially my kids, and I worry at night and try to figure things out and think up strategies and plans, but I do it all with a full belly and a fairly good roof over my head and no worries about things falling on me from the sky.
A friend came along and we stood together and held hands. When the ceremony started I mentioned how it’s the planes that make me sore, and how I can’t imagine hearing them and having to worry, and she told me that her father’s family had been killed in Poland when their village was bombed. They scrambled to get underground but couldn’t all get there. Her father was the last one in and survived but was one of only a few. She thought he would have been about sixteen and he lost most of his family, including his mom.
I was walking back to my car deep in thought when I put it together that that was my friend’s grandma.
During the ceremony the dad I’d been watching put his daughter back on the ground for a bit and I watched him look down at her and run his hand over her head and through her hair with such a tender touch. As I stood listening and thinking about the losses, the sacrifices made, the commitment to fight for peace and our country, I wondered if this dad was making his sense of it standing in the sun in a peaceful place and looking down at his little one.
Always be grateful and never forget.