I get reminded as we walk out the front door that the children have been requested to bring flowers of some sort for the services this morning. Her brother is staying home because of a tummy ache, something that I worried may have been a figment of an overactive imagination until he mentioned cramping and attempted to throw up, and until his teacher informed me that she’d sent 2 home already after they’d yakked at school, bringing the tally of gastro-kids to 6.
We’re already running late, I’ve got to scare up some flowers and my cowboy boots aren’t the best for walking fast, so all signs are pointing to just taking the car the environmentally-Unfriendly 4 blocks to school.
It’s just such a beautiful day though, and I tell her to get her helmet and scooter out while I find the loppers to procure the only full blossom on the rosebushes out front. It’s above my reach, and once its branch has been snipped it tumbles down towards certain doom before settling perfectly on the thorny crook of neighbouring branches. I take this as a sign, pick it up and head out.
At school I pass by the Parent Room, a flurry of activity that doesn’t really register with me, and walk across the campus to the furthest building where Piehead is in Pre-Primary. Being late, we have to hurry kisses and “be good”s while she grabs a patch of carpet and lines up with the rest of her class to head to the assembly. Peggy Jean Patty Sue Mum Of Year gestures at the giant blossom in my hand and adds it to the armload she’s already got. “I’m the Flower Girl this morning!” she announces happily, and I notice that her sense of humour has actually developed a bit since becoming pregnant with what promises to be yet another perfectly balanced progeny.
As I walk back up towards the assembly I notice Peggy taking my flower into the Parent Room, where the earlier activity was making “flower circles” as the kids had mentioned. Realising they meant “wreaths”, I felt a bit stupid for not just dropping it off on our way by, and saving them from last-second scrambles. I get seated in the last 2 rows of chairs on the East side, all of which are empty. The air is chill and I’m re-thinking my earlier t-shirt choice as I notice that the man directly across the street has chosen the exact moment of the assembly to crank up his lawnmower. Thankfully, the fact that it sounds as if it’s running on gravel instead of petrol makes him stop to check it out, instead of making this the worst Anzac Day services in history.
The kids hit “Play” on the CD Player on cue, and deliver their scripted lines about “The Last Post” and other such songs after they’ve played. They read out the appropriate lines, raise and lower the flag appropriately while the somber-faced old gentlemen in suits with medals and ribbons plastered to the breast nod and occasionally read some words that are nigh impossible to hear over the freshly cranked lawnmower.
As my oldest niece’s voice rises above the others in the children’s version of “One Last Parade”, two small kids walk up the aisle with a large wreath. I find serendipity in our tardiness and desperation of the morning as I notice with quiet pride that the largest and most perfectly placed blossom on the wreath is the huge red rose we’d so hastily gathered earlier.
The song they’re singing never fails to bring water to my eyes, regardless of how stoic I struggle to appear, and I once again question my fashion choice of the morning in forgetting my sunglasses. As we settle into a moment of silence, certain truths of the day reveal themselves to me.
Of these men, these soldiers, most of them don’t talk about the memories. Those that do, seem to only fondly recall going on leave, or stories from training, but not fighting. The fighting is something that they either never seem to recall or simply won’t talk about. Their reluctance to speak of their time in the service seems directly proportionate to the level of fighting they’ve seen.
Case in point, my father’s father served somewhere in the Pacific, seeing the enemy only once as a Japanese Zero wandered woundedly and crazily off-course from the Battle of Midway and flew over their ramshackle radio shed while they attempted to bring it down with a .45 pistol. He used to relate this story with some humour, embellishing nothing and pointing out that their efforts were the equivalent of trying to fell an elephant with river pebbles. His memories had no scarring and were unhindered by horror, unlike many of his friends and comrades.
My wife’s grandfather has never spoken of his time in the service, and the details of what branch he even served in are fuzzy and debated. I can only assume that he’s seen things no human ever should. “Haunted” is an undeniable understatement for these men, as I recall listening to my friend’s father, a veteran of Viet Nam, occasionally wake up screaming in the night. Other than his sleep-garbled words resembling someone “in the wire”, he patently refused to ever speak of the war.
I look up and look past the microphone stand to a sign. “Lest We Forget” is pasted in coloured-in letters, collaged together by bright-eyed young primary students. It’s meaning to them lightyears different than from the grizzled old bloke at the microphone, proudly donning his beret and thanking us for being there. When I look into his eyes I get the feeling that he is wishing that he would forget, if only he could.
We bring these two together, these the fresh, sweet and young and these the weathered, wise and experienced, so that none of them forget. While they are young, they are learning not to forget how to be thankful for the freedoms they have, for the lives that they enjoy so thoroughly under the roof of protection that too many have died to build. When they are older and becoming adults, they will learn not to forget that their lives are precious, perhaps too precious to be gambled with on a battlefield, or perhaps so precious that they will choose to give them willingly. They will continue to remember to be thankful for those that have done the same for they will more fully realise the repercussions of this choice.
When they are grown and maybe even have children of their own, they will not forget to be thankful for all they have, all that they have had the opportunity to build and grow on their own. They will not forget that they have led a life where they have never had a friend of theirs get blown to pieces in front of their very eyes. They will not forget that they have never had to take someone’s life simply to prevent theirs from being taken in situations devised and created by people in offices whose lives are not at risk. They will not forget that there are others, sometimes family, who have memories that they cannot forget, regardless of how much they wish they could.
When they remember, they will remember it all. They will even remember to be thankful for the old men’s memories, horrific as they are, for they are a lesson. The pain and even primal scarring they see shadowed in those old men’s eyes is just as important to remember as the freedoms afforded by their sacrifice.
This day really isn’t so that we remember to be thankful, for we really should remember to do that on our own. Every single day.
No. The real reason we remember all of this on this day, is to remember to never do it again.