Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two minutes of silence

Ahhh silence. This morning at 11 a.m., the whole office was silent. No, we weren’t feverishly working away as we usually are (bosses are in close range so I must stress this). We were remembering, each lost in her own thoughts about loved ones, friends and even strangers who served in the First and Second World Wars and others since.

I used to consider observing the two-minute silence as an inconvenience. I had work to do! I couldn’t use the phone, call across at one of my coworkers for the latest magazine revisions or even type. It was, after all, supposed to be silent. That changed after I started working at the newspaper, where I met Bill Burrell.

Almost three years ago, I interviewed this sweet old man who was a gunner in World War II. Mr. Burrell talked about his initial training, the first time he went into battle and the friends, some who came back and many more that didn’t. The one thing that stands out in my mind, besides wondering how this 84-year-old Royal Canadian Legion member continues to run the Poppy campaign, was the tears that still well up in his eyes when he talks about the war. He was the person who sat up in the bird’s nest and directed the gunner on where to shoot. At first, he felt like the king of the world, sitting up high and giving orders. That soon changed, however, as he went into more and more battles. He was the squadron’s eyes. He saw the outcome of enemy fire, on both sides. And one day, he was witness as shots from a German plane riddled the underside of his plane. It wasn’t only the plane; his gunner, friend was full of holes too.

He said it seemed like it was yesterday, and for some, it was. I know of a few people off fighting in Afghanistan right now. One friend came back a few months ago from his second tour. Another friend’s brother just shipped out.

Now, I’m not pro-war. I think there are many reasons why there is a war going on in Afghanistan. The friend who is now back from his tour put it this way: most Afghanis, the people trying to eek out a living every day want the same things for their children, their families that we want, namely education, the ability to support their family and a stop to the fighting. And it’s not just battles being carried out by the U.S. and Canadian forces – it’s the fight between the powers that be in Afghanistan, factions that want their people in power. It’s been going on for years, with the Soviet occupation and with its own people. Everyday Afghanis, like me and you, want a better life for themselves and for their families. My friend remembers what one man said to him: we don’t care who is in power but they must look after us and our own best interests.

Bill Burrell wanted the same thing too, and for that, he took up his post in his bird’s nest, trying to keep his friends safe. War is never easy, it’s never clear-cut and there are always casualties.

A few years ago, I took a trip to Amsterdam, not to partake in the fare at the many smoke-friendly pubs and bars in the area, but to visit Anne Frank’s house. I was obsessed with the whole Frank family tale when I was 12 or 13. Here were ordinary people living in an extraordinary situation – in hiding and yet still trying to make a normal life for their children.

Today, I sat silently, in reflection of our part in the world’s conflicts and in the men and women of our armed forces. I thought about Anne Frank. I thought about my aunt and uncle who both served in the war, and I thought about those families trying to make a normal life for their families. Today, I remembered that my life is ordinary and bearable, and capable of being extraordinary.
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.
— Lt.-Col.
John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

1 comment:

  1. I was just talking about this tonitht with friends... My husband used to sell military aircraft, a fact I didn't like about him until the day he explained that to him, he was maintaining the peace. A long story that I'll write about in a Paris Episode on a monday one day. We are lucky aren't we! See ya soon!