I watch the Remembrance Day service from Ottawa and I cry. Every time. It never gets any easier. This year, the televisions in the clinics, which normally play soothing images and music, were tuned to CBC for the service. So at about 5 minutes to 11, I made my way over, and stood all by myself in an empty clinic and watched. And cried.
As a memeber of the Canadian Naval Reserves, I participated in many Remembrance Day parades and services. As a musician, I often had a lot to focus on throughout. Things like keeping my fingers warm and able to move, draining the water out of my clarinet so it didn’t freeze up, wiggling my toes so that when we finally marched off my feet would actually work, stuff like that. I would scan the audience when I could for familiar faces, and to gauge the expressions of the people gathered there at the cenotaph. Hamilton always has a good turnout for these types of things, and I was always impressed by the respect that the crowds showed. At the same time, I did my best to not focus too closely on the veterans who were assembled. Because then? I would cry. Every time. So for the sake of not blubbering, I would busy myself with the other things mentioned.
Now though, as a part of the audience, whether TV or live, I have more opportunity to see the old men and women in their legion best who brave the elements to pay homage to their comrades. And on TV of course, it’s the close-up shots of the aged faces, standing (or wheelchair bound) in brave salute, bowing heads, shaking hands, teary faces. These images, and the image of the Silver Cross Mother, laying a wreath on behalf of the mothers who have lost children in service, freshly break my heart every year. They always have, but as I get older, I think a lot of it resonates more with me. The Silver Cross Mother especially. What goes through your mind when you hear the news of your child – yes, an adult man or woman but still your child – being killed in the line of duty? How do you react? How do you even recover? If you watch the services from Ottawa, you can’t help but notice that these women seem to get younger every year. Why? Here’s a hint: because we are at war. Men and women are still dying, and that leads me to think about the oldest veterans at the service; what are they feeling as they spend the day remembering their own war, only to tune in at 6:00 that evening for news of the current war?
But I guess this has happened before, hasn’t it? The WWI vets watching WWII happen. WWII vets watching the Korean War happen. And now? Everyone together, watching the war in Afghanistan unfold.
So. Never again? We can only hope.