Friday, November 11, 2011

The Most Famous Guelph Writer, and A Secret

Today, of all days, I am reminded that no matter how famous I become, I will never be the most famous writer from my hometown. At least I hope not. Even Robert Munch does not have that distinction.

Instead, Guelph's most famous writer is know for one single piece of writing that takes up less than a page. It's a poem, and if you live in North America and have English as your first language, chances are good you know it off by heart:

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

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.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Guelph understandably has one of the biggest Remembrance Day observances in the country. About 4,000 or so people convene in the Sleeman Centre to watch a ceremony which involves a couple of hundred participants (vetrans, militia, cadets, wreath bearers, police, fire department, EMS, postal workers...), and which is timed pretty much to the second. If one goes to the Sunrise Ceremony at Colonel John McRae house, it starts at nine in the morning, and we finished just after noon at the cenotaph.

Our guest speaker today was a veteran who had signed up as a "boy soldier" during WWII, and who spent a lifetime in the military. He introduced his son, a retired major, and his grandson, a major currently on active duty. He spoke of some of his experiences during the wars he'd been involved in, but he was a very self-effacing and engaging speaker, and he was more intent on highlighting the contributions of others than he was on "blowing his own horn," so to speak.

For that, Colonel Bayne, I salute you.

He then went on to say that some who served don't count themselves as veterans because they never saw active combat, and told us that if we'd served and been honourably discharged, we were veterans.

And I began to see myself in a new light.

At age 15, I joined Army Cadets. At age 18 or 19, I enlisted in the Cadet Instructors List (CIL), the unit of the armed forces that trained cadets. I was a commissioned officer in the Canadian Armed Forces.

I don't know what my official status is right now. I never formally resigned, instead transferring to the Supplementary Reserve List. I strongly suspect I'm still on it, because I haven't received any discharge papers.

So I'm probably not a civilian at this point. Certainly I haven't considered myself one since I was sworn in as a new officer cadet.

But I've always denigrated my service. Looking around the arena today at the young men and women serving our country, I realized that in my day I had trained many such young people, and that some of those I helped train are still serving.

I began to see my small service as something that had real value for my country.

I have thought for a while that I was born twenty years too early. I know that if I had been born twenty five or thirty years ago rather than fifty-one years ago, I would have given serious thought about serving overseas. I probably would be a real combat veteran by now. Such is my temperament.

So that's my secret. As dedicated as I am to peaceful conflict resolution and restorative justice, I am also a warrior. I would give my life to protect those I care about and those I don't even know, but I won't do it by being a sheild that gets shot at without fighting back.

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal ...
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance ...
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I have been priviledged to live in a peaceful place and time. It is my hope that by my words and deeds and by the words and deeds of other, that peace will spread throughout all the world, until one day, the occupation of warrior is no longer needed.

Until then, I honour those who give their youth, and sometimes their lives, to protecting the rest of us.

I will remember.

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