1000 Voices Speak For Compassion, Bucket List, History, IN THE NEWS AND ON MY MIND, Kerry's Causes, Poetry, RIP, Special Occasions, This Day In Literature

In Flanders Fields’: One Hundred Years Later, #JohnMcCrae #InFlandersFields

Somewhere out there there is a field, a field full of silent meaning and distant regret.

I’d like to see this field, to experience the meaning of a poem up close. I will get there one day. I will stand in that spot.

It’s a field full of red…red flowers that grew out of the mud and the graves.

Red blood, having made way to red flowers.

I don’t know why I’ve developed such an attachment to this particular field, so far away. Why does its sadness mean anything at all to me?

Most times I get concerned when November 11th approaches. I feel anxious, like I don’t feel what everyone else is feeling. I know it’s no jolly holiday to celebrate, but there is a certain intense pride that comes out in the hearts and voices of many Canadians, with the ceremonies and the laying of wreaths in remembrance. Canada has lost a lot in war and I can’t feel proud of this.

I am proud of the poem one Canadian doctor wrote, one hundred years ago. He lived, not so far from where I live. He did, what I know can be done with literature, he used words to mark so many things, a shared humanity.

He went to fight in France and Belgium and he lost his life, but not before he composed a poem that would one day be read to me, every single year, in school, when November arrived.

In Flanders Fields’: Canadian children recite our 100-year-old poem

What did my four-year-old niece’s school do, with her and the other children today?

What did they say to explain today to her and the other children?

I can’t even explain it to myself. I listen to stories of loss and death and suffering. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.

I don’t always understand poetry, as much as I love literature, of all sorts. So why do I want to cry, any time I hear the lines about those red flowers?

Pieces of red velour, representing all that valour. A moment of observed silence. Eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

The pride I can’t quite feel makes me worry about my level of respect toward so many humans, those who lost their lives, fighting for so many reasons, but I know it’s not about me anyway. I am not the point. I did not have to fight directly, to sacrifice, for the freedoms I have.

The closest I’ve seen the affects, happened, not in a distant world war, but in the 21st century.

http://www.honourthem.ca/masterDetail.cfm?ID=165

It happened to family, family of family.

I did not know Tyler Todd, but he was only one year older than I am, when he died. This fact practically knocks the breath from my body.

I feel like a jerk because I don’t know why we were there, why that happened, why why why?

Afghanistan is so far away, farther even than Europe, even as the veterans from the conflicts of the last century fade, there are those who are suffering the loss, new and again.

I am just some silly idealist, who doesn’t understand why peace can’t be maintained. I want peace, don’t understand why we can’t just have it. What am I missing? The realist in me knows.

And so I return to the poetry, because that, at least, is something strangely beautiful I can cling to, when I need to feel more. When I need to try hard to understand. It makes sense of the nonsensical, or at least attempts to put the images and the realities into an order out of all the disorder and the chaos.

It’s a hard life. It’s a hard life. It’s a very hard life. It’s a hard life wherever you go. And if we poison our children with hatred, then the hard life is all that they’ll know.

It’s A Hard Life

And so I look to the markers of the past, like poppies mark graves of unknown soldiers, unknown to me anyway.

Ever since I wrote about the start of World War I,

100,

I think about the war that began these rituals we follow.

And I will mark the occasions, as 1914-1918 and one hundred years hence.

I try to write in eloquence, as McCray wrote on that battlefield, but I fall short of the mark. When I hear the stories, when I think about the life that was lost, of the family who know loss now…

I can’t just sit back and feel pride, when I put my own brother in that place, when I think that he could be that one taken by war, in a day when we should not romanticize the idea of war, as was done in 1914 and I am unable to let go of my reaction to this day.

This is not the time or the place, some would say.

Or is it the perfect time to say so?

I can’t speak the words “sacrifice for one’s country” without the lump in my throat and the feeling of something so wrong. No disrespect meant, really, to all.

With the swearing in of Justin Trudeau I hope for peace, with Canada leading the charge. I hope for it, while so many acknowledge the losses suffered.

I want to explain myself, to discover my own paying of some tribute. Instead, the lines of “In Flanders Fields’” run continuously through in my head.

I am sure the feeling must be strong there, on 11/11/11. I have never experienced those bagpipes up close. I’ve only listened on the television. I hear the pain in the voices of the families. I watch the broadcast, live today.

What War Memorials Say About Us

I can now say I’ve been at the memorial, in Ottawa, but the crowds weren’t there. The day, though just as grey, was silent and still.

I don’t wish to stand amongst the crowds, but I do long to stand in that silent field.

I want to write (a blog post, a poem, a work of fiction about WW I/II). I want to pour out my idealist/realist thoughts. I need to see it for myself, that field.

I’m rambling, I realize this now, and still I press on. I’m free to pour out my thoughts, to write, and no war rages on around me as I do so.

John McCrae fought and wrote, in that war so long ago now, so one hundred years later I could write in a peaceful time and place, about war, about peace.

My country is silent now, but I write. And as I write…

“Fire!”

The planes fly low and the bagpipes play their mournful song.

Gun shots. I will never understand such symbolism as this and I hope my insensitivity isn’t a problem, but I need to speak.

Isn’t that why all the fighting was done? So I could be free to state my feelings on what war means to me, how we mark the peace and the lives lost to achieve it, and why I just can’t follow the crowds?

McCrae wrote of poppies, crosses, larks, guns, torches, loved ones…

***

We are the dead.

Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved,

and now we lie

In Flanders Fields.

***

I feel pride in the poetry and I always will. This is why I keep writing, why I wanted to write, not to let these words ever be forgotten.

Why I am proud to be Canadian.

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History, Kerry's Causes, Memoir and Reflections, Poetry, RIP, Special Occasions

I Will Never Forget Yet I Will Never Understand

Yesterday was Remembrance Day here in Canada, Veteran’s Day, Armistice Day; whatever you call it where you are it is the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month that we stop to remember.

I thought about writing, but as you see, I held off until today. Why did I do this?

Today is the day after and I wanted to speak about my feelings, but couldn’t quite say what I wanted to say on the day when others were both remembering and speaking theirs. I will admit I was afraid of coming off as disrespectful or ungrateful. I did not want to offend. That is not my intention here.

I have written about my interest in the world wars in the past on this blog:

Day in the Museum, Part Three: Keep Calm and Carry On

I often immerse myself in the stories and the details of World War I and World War II specifically. These events in 20th century history have always held my attention and baffled me greatly.

The recent events here in Canada, more specifically in our capital of Ottawa affected us and me, so much so that I can’t speak about Remembrance Day without speaking about the loss we’ve collectively suffered only weeks ago.

First there was the hit-and-run in Quebec, of Officer Patrice Vincent.

Then, only a few days later, on the morning of October 22rd, my phone blew up with news updates on an attack in progress in Canada’s capital city. The news was not good.

There had been a shooting at The National War Memorial, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, on Parliament Hill.

The country was in a panic and Ottawa, as a city, was in a frenzy. What was going on? Were we under attack?

I began to feel highly panicky and anxious, even though I lived several hours from Ottawa myself.

By the end of the day it had been established that one lone soldier, standing guard and unarmed at the memorial, Nathan Cirillo, had been murdered.

The gunmen then proceeded to force his way into the parliament building and was then confronted with a shoot-out, resulting in his death.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa-shooting-a-look-back-at-how-the-week-unfolded-1.2811614

I was asked the other day by a family member why I hadn’t yet written about these events. He figured, as I use this blog and my writing to express my feelings about the things that happen, that I would surely have had something to say on the subject.

I may be totally ungrateful, unaware of how lucky I am and how much I indeed have. I wish nobody any disrespect.

I have no immediate family member currently involved in combat. I do have family who have loved ones who are. Below is a dedication to one such recently deceased soldier:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QerRytM2CJk

Remembrance Day means something to me.

Each November I would sit, cross-legged on the cold floor of my school gymnasium for the November 11th assembly. I felt the sombre mood as fellow students did readings and played soldiers and their families from the Great War, a title I did not understand as a young child.

How could a war be great?” I would wonder.

I was a very literal child.
🙂
Since I heard my school’s choir singing In Flanders Fields, I was captivated and haunted by the lyrics of this famous battlefield poem. Visiting Flanders is on my WanderList. I want to walk in that hallowed place.

I could not find a version of the song that I refer to here, but I was brought right back to those yearly assemblies yesterday, when watching the ceremonies shown live on television. A school choir, like my own, performed the song and I listened in remembrance.

This is one hundred years since that First World War and seventy-five since the Second. I heard about the poppy display at The Tower of London and would have liked to see it.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2829837/A-poppy-fallen-Thousands-flock-Tower-London-888-245-ceramic-flowers-planted-pay-respects-Britain-s-war-dead.html

I am aware of all that I have. I have heat in the winter, central air to keep me cool in summer, a house, food to eat, two amazing parents and a family to be proud of.

As a blind woman, I couldn’t live in a better part of the world and I know it. Even with all that I struggle with, I am still so damn lucky.

In this day and age, with the internet and twenty-four hour news it isn’t so easy to live in a bubble of denial or shelter from the rest of the world.

Lyrics such as: don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me, till I come marching home … these old-time lyrics from a period long past seem simple and naive to our world today.

This is the world I imagine existed when World War I broke out. It’s an innocent view of war that some young men may have had before going away to fight in 1914 and then they saw things they could never unsee. Nowadays we know better, (we should know better) but the fighting still goes on all over the world, every single day.

I watched all the ceremonies, the salutes, and honouring of those who’ve sacrificed their lives for my freedom.

I feel proud to be Canadian, but I feel uncomfortable when I watch. I can’t quite make any one day or one particular minute of silence all about pride and honour
. I just can’t. Maybe this makes me a bad person somehow, but I feel an anxiety that the world is doomed to make similar mistakes over and over again.

All the propositions to do better and to strive for peace are all well and good, but I can’t turn a blind eye on what I know about the world, not even on Remembrance Day.

The utter senselessness of World War I and the unimaginable cruelty of World War II will always define the first half of last century for me.

I remember all the time. I don’t need a chosen day or time for this. It is almost constantly on my mind, a world without war.

I don’t know what it was like for my father’s father during World War II and I never will. He is gone now and unable to have any imagined adult conversation with his grown granddaughter about this. I feel a huge empty gap in his life that I can only guess at, an entire fifty-seven years before I was born that include things I will hopefully never experience.

He was a teenager, in France with his family, when the war broke out in 1939 and circumstances, totally out of his control, they were thrust upon him. This I can not possibly fathom.

He and his siblings were taken by the Germans and forced to work for them. I believe he was made to dig ditches and other things I know nothing about. I try so hard sometimes to imagine him during the years of the war and what his life was like.

There has been a lot of talk in recent news, due to recent events, and on every Remembrance Day about bravery and sacrifice. I do not challenge this.

Some of these brave people make the choice to serve, to fight, or to stand guard and protect, such as reservist Nathan Cirillo. His child will now grow up without a father and this is supremely unfair. This child and others have no real choice in the matter.

War brings these choices and to others, to children and the innocent, it brings no choice whatsoever. Peace provides us time to reflect.

I do not mention the names of those who have committed the senseless crimes in Quebec and Ottawa. I do not like to glorify such things, but I reflect on the family members of these sick criminals and what they must be dealing with in the aftermath.

I was not in a rush to defend my country from a direct attack by ISIS. I know what is going on with that right now, but am probably naive about so much. However, the need to jump to attention and to go on the defensive like it is common to do is not where my mind goes.

All I do know is something I recently heard:

An eye for an eye and we are all blind.

As someone who was actually born blind, I consider this truth more potent than any I have ever heard.

I did not rush here to pour out my raw and unexamined feelings about Ottawa’s recent attack when it happened. I am blessed to live in a country of relative peace and therefore, I have nothing but time for reflection. I depend on and defend the right and my own right to speak about these things in such a place as this.

I want this blog to be a place where I write, to get out feelings sure, but not as a dumping ground for just anything that comes to my mind. Some of it I try to come at from a place of education and also from a place of emotion.

I prefer to mull things over and to write as a way of making sense of those things, but I believe holding off sometimes can only help make what I say sound as clear and concise as possible.

A rant is, more often then not, better suited for a private journal. For me, my blog is where I examine events and ideas from a mature, insightful point-of-view.

I hope that is what I have done here, the day after the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.

I will always remember. Yet I am sorry…but I can not ever understand.

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Bucket List, Poetry, Special Occasions

One Hundred

Number 15 on my
Bucket List
is to visit the setting of the poem that can always give me goosebumps.

On this one-hundred-year anniversary of the start of Britain’s fighting in World War I England went dark, except for a single light or candle, for one hour starting at 10 this evening, August 4th.
Poppies fill the moat of The Tower of London in remembrance.

It’s unfathomable to me that 17 million lives were lost over the four plus years of The Great War (and I use that term with a dry chuckle). I know what “great” means in this case, large in scope and impact, but I can’t imagine what it was like to be Canadian during those years.

We had no choice. Britain were at war and we were Britain’s young and inexperienced child. We followed them into the darkness and the death.

I have been fascinated by John McCrae’s tragically sad poem “In Flanders Fields” since it was read at our Remembrance Day assembly in school. Now that I am older and love literature and poetry I see it for the meaningful piece of both of these that it is, a brilliant lyrical window into the suffering of combat and conflict that would be the world wars of the 20th century.

I read about the pride and the duty to one’s country; about the trenches with the death, rotting corpses, the blood, rats, and the lice; the shrapnel, machine gun fire, and the poison gas. I can’t and never will understand this hell. I feel a pull to this time in history too for the romance of the love letters written by soldiers on the front back to their sweethearts a world away at home, the toughness and resilience of this period.

It is hard for me to relate to a time when Germany and the German soldier were considered the enemy. Whether it’s World War I or World War II I know that was the case, but having such a connection to Germany with family living there, now I feel stuck in a war inside my head that has long ago been fought and resolved. I don’t have to choose, but in my mind I am pulled back to that time when things were just that black and white.

As for McCrae I imagine him sitting there in the midst of all that death and writing a poem he probably never could have guessed generations of school children would be hearing and taking in as we have.

I hope to travel to this spot. Places in Europe I hope to still visit in my lifetime such as Flanders, Vimy Ridge, or possibly Passchendaele would bring it to a whole new level of surrealism for me.

For now I must settle for reading and rereading the

poem,

and letting my mind stretch to grasp such a time in history that I will never know, but I feel the impact on my own personal view of the world since the guns were silenced and the century I would eventually be born into wore on.

Talk of foes and the ones who once lived, loved, and felt the sun on their faces will never stop affecting me, but back then it would take one more, one more World War would be necessary before death on such a global scale would have all countries involved saying ENOUGH!

I don’t think we’ve quite learned our lesson, on the contrary. I just wanted to explain why number 15 appears on my list and why I even care at all when it is often thought and said that today’s generation could care less.

I once asked my father (ever a cynic) if he thought there would someday be a World War III and he said gravely:
“I think, nowadays with nuclear weapons, that would spell doom and the end of this planet for us all.”

Only time will tell I guess, but for my niece and nephews sakes I hope he is wrong and I hope our world has learned something from the World Wars of the past. Nonetheless, it will mean something to me if I ever manage to check number 15 off my ever-growing list.

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