The school gymnasium wasn’t large enough to hold our entire population — the student body included kindergarteners all the way up to high school seniors — so those of us in the higher grades sat in bleachers in the cafeteria, overlooking the gym. From my vantage point, the elderly men and women sitting on the stage looked small. Every year they told similar stories of noise, terror and shock, of waiting, of worrying, of injuries physical and emotional, of triumph and freedom. Every year, their numbers dwindled.
For three years now I have stood near the cenotaph in a nearby village and documented the small ceremony of remembrance, honouring twelve soldiers who left their homes to fight for peace and never returned — a small number, maybe, but not in proportion to the population of the day. Every year, they close with God Save the Queen and I realize that I still don’t know the words. I never had to learn them.
I am lucky to have never experienced war. I am lucky, too, to have heard vivid memories of war, recounted by veterans. I am lucky to have known people who did experience war, so that I could hear from them, in their words, what it was, and why it should never happen again.
As I have been doing with many things lately, I wonder — what will this be like for my children? What will they know of war? Will it be an old, strange concept, something that happened long ago in history? There will be no veterans from the World Wars left to sit on the stages of their schools. Will it be less important, because they won’t have the ability to imagine it happening in their own country?
All I can think of is the repatriation of a Canadian soldier I attended. How a massive aircraft managed to be silent, how a huge congregation of people waving Canadian flags managed to be sombre, how it stuck with me that day and still sticks with me today. That is, I think, what I will share with my children, when the time comes. That is my modern-day context for war, for terror, for worry and waiting.
As always, I am so, so thankful to live in this country. I am thankful for peace, and the people who bravely won it for us. I will not forget them, and I will not forget those who continue to make war something that does not happen on my home soil. And I hope, fervently, that the rest of the world will one day be able to remember war through stories, instead of experiencing it firsthand.