Photo credit: foxypar4
1mother: Marcelle Cerny
“Mommy, when I’m 18, will I have to go to war?”
The boys are learning about Remembrance Day at school. Reciting “In Flanders Fields”. Daniel will be taking part in the school assembly, reading a passage about how the war ended at 6am Washington time.
But Sebastian’s not thinking about that. He’s snuggled up to me, head pressed against my chest, looking through long eyelashes for my answer.
I think of the thousands of boys who once snuggled up to their own mothers this way. Little boys, who played at war and who tested their courage in little ways. Who grew up to believe it to be their duty to defend their country, to show valour, and honour.
I sigh. I cannot lie. I cannot tell the future. But I can pray.
“I hope not, honey. I hope you and your brother and no other boy or girl ever has to go to war again”.
He nods. “Did Daddy have to go to war when he was 18?”
“No sweetie pie. That’s why we remember those who fought in war, who fought for our freedom, so that your Daddy, and you, and your brother might never ever have to go to war. We need to remember, and we need to say thank you”.
His mouth twists slightly, in thought, and then, “When did the first war start?”
I struggle. Cain and Abel? Do I reach back to the Bible? Does he mean the first in recorded history? I’m overthinking this.
He comes up with his own answer: “I think the first war started when the first two people stopped talking to one another”.
2mother: Carol Chandran
Last week I heard of the distribution of white poppies by peace groups, to the distress of veterans. I love to love peace groups, as I think the true potential of non-violent resolution of disputes is grossly underrated, not just for war, but for all interpersonal conflicts, including the ones that arise in parenting. But when I read the newsclip on white poppies, my heart sank and I had just one simple thought: “No, don’t do that.”
I suspect it’s significant that perhaps the only poem I can still recite from memory in full is John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields“. Maybe the white poppy distributors are motivated to push their symbol because of the haunting call to arms that concludes the poem. I find more moving the middle verse:
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.
There is a time for everything, including a certain humility and forebearance in the face of pain, the likes of which most of us blessedly know nothing about. November 11 is not a time for a white poppy; the poppies of remembrance are red. As my brother-in-law asked, “Will they protest at funerals, too?”
3mother: Nathalie Foy
I remember the art that makes us remember. When people make statements about art being superfluous, about its not being an essential part of our social life and our government spending, I think of passages of fiction and of the sculpting of monuments like these, lest we forget the labour that goes into remembering.
This is a passage from Jane Urquhart’s The Stone Carvers, a novel about Walter Allward’s memorial at Vimy Ridge. It is a book I recommend highly. She captures Allward’s passion and mania for his task so wonderfully.
Allward had watched the citizens of the provincial capital of Toronto stroll or hurry past his Queen’s Park sculptures of colonial founding fathers without a glance; in fact, he had not once seen a passerby pause to examine the bronze faces of these men who had so successfully imposed Europe’s questionable order on what had been their personal definition of chaos. After the brief ceremonies of installation, these statues in frock coats had become as easy to ignore as trees, fire hydrants, or lampposts. This would not—could not—happen with the memorial. It would be so monumental that, forty miles away, far across the Douai Plain, people would be moved by it, large enough that strong winds would be put off course by it, and perfect enough that it would seem to have been built by a vanished race of brilliant giants. … The names of the eleven thousand missing men were being collected and the complicated mathematics necessary to fit these names into the space available on the base was being undertaken. The most recent set of figures had suggested that it would likely take four stone carvers two years to chisel the hundreds of thousands of characters into the stone. Lines, circles, and curves corresponding to a cherished, remembered sound called over fields at summer dusk from a back porch door, shouted perhaps in anger or whispered in passion, or in prayer, in the winter dark. All that remained of torn faces, crushed bone, scattered limbs. (268…274)