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At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
These words have always held a spiritual quality to me. Something sacred, like a marble statue. And in the gym, when we repeat them, I feel that even with all the sweaty air and basketball nets, we are in a temple.
Which was why I’d always thrown myself into Remembrance Day preparations. I remember how last year, after a month of preparations, we set an eight minute band piece to spoken poetry with lyrics and animations on screen, detailing the perspectives of four individuals affected by the Great War. I carefully composed the meter and asked my vocally-skilled friends to stay back after school, turning the music room turned into a small recording studio. I remember the night before, when I was texting Peter, our technical specialist, feeding him the details of the audio-visual matchup as I frantically edited them.
In the morning, when our part of the assembly finally came, I felt a small sense of pride, that we were able to do this much–to honour those who had given their lives for us.
This summer, I partook in a scholarship battlefield tour, where we stood before the very graves of soldiers, the Christmas Truce Statue, and the gold-strewn Normandy beaches with its salty air and eerie peace. I was more determined to honour this sacrifice, fashioning 300 epitaph cards with their respective soldiers’ biographical information on the back. Friday, November 10, 2017 was the first snowfall of the year: the buses were delayed, and so I ran, with my backpack and winter boots, down the length of Major MacKenzie Drive. I made my way to the front, where Mr. Marr had already assembled the large, black display board. As students entered the gym, I handed the cards to them. They read, perhaps thought for a brief moment, and arranged their card onto the board, pinning the epitaph with a poppy pin.
Again, I felt a rush of the same contentment as the previous year, seeing teachers and students alike pause and reflect. That was, until my history teacher approached me.
“Nice to know that so many young men died for the balance of power in Europe.”
The words didn’t register at first, because I was still quite tired from staying up and running to school, but then–looking at the board, the paper cards and plastic poppies, I felt an uneasy sense of disillusionment. Everything I was convinced was right–honour, commemoration, the sacred–grew dim, because I approached the situation emotionally and without analysis. Moreover, what narrative of war have I been espousing? Romanticization? A naive and simplistic view bordering on propaganda? What are the repercussions of the stories we tell ourselves and what we think about the past?
I think we young people are like this, so eager to rush to grand ideas like Hope and Courage and Self-Sacrifice without premonition, like ants on a hamster wheel–for all we know, the straight path of progress leads nowhere. What scares me is that you can fight and give your life and have it mean nothing.
Dizzy, I ran my hands against the board. An epitaph stopped me.
ONE DAY WE SHALL UNDERSTAND.
It struck me there–what a note of both hope and despair! The horrifying recognition that your son had given his life for no apparent meaning, but that meaning lies as a potentiality to be discovered. The recognition of loss through ignorance, yet hope for future redemption through knowledge. What I hope for is progress, but what I now also hope for is the application of my energies to an informed direction, to not rush headfirst into whatever rouses me. And even though I am seventeen and know so little, I hope that one day I, too, shall understand.
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