Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Fortune Of Tears: Remembrance Day

About your easy heads my prayers
I said with syllables of clay.
"What gift," I asked, "shall I bring now
Before I weep and walk away?"

Take, they replied, the oak and laurel.
Take our fortune of tears and live
Like a spendthrift lover. All we ask
Is the one gift you cannot give.

- from At The British War Cemetery, Bayeux, by Charles Causley
The photo above is of my Aunt Pat and Uncle Jack Gallagher (brother & sister). Pat served with WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service); Jack with the Canadian Scottish Regiment. He landed at Juno Beach, D-Day, June 1944. Both survived World War II and Jack is living in West Vancouver. Pat passed away in 2007.

Back in the summer of 2004, the 60th anniversary of D-Day, I travelled to Bayeux in Normandy, home of the famous Tapestry and a beautiful town in itself. There were streamers and flags hanging from the wires, the cider was flowing and the people were geniunely friendly, even moreso after learning I was Canadian.

I rented a bike to ride out to the coast and visit the Juno Beach Centre, about 25 kilometers away at Courseulles-sur-Mer. It was a gorgeous day and as the wheat fields and farm houses flew by I felt like I'd fallen into the middle of a Van Gogh painting.

Then disaster struck. My back tire popped. I was about 10 kms outside of Bayeux and had no choice but to push my sorry rental all the way back to the shop.

I grabbed a cab and rolled down the window to catch the breeze like a slobbering dog as we made our way to the coast. The Juno Centre had opened the previous year in 2003 and was empty except for the young Canadian woman from Halifax looking after the place. It's compact, but serves the purpose of housing artifacts from the period like the Allons-y Canadiens! poster above, and of keeping the memory alive of those soldiers who perished or were wounded in the D-Day operations.

I stepped back outside and took in the idyllic scene - kites, picnics, sunbathers. While gazing out across the water I thought of my uncle and his fellow soldiers floating out there in grey-metal gunships about to be flung into the maw of an unknowable terror. It was almost impossible to imagine the blood and carnage that had once ripped open this coastline. But that's the point, I thought. Through their sacrifice they had bequeathed peace from war, communion from animus and life from death just so we could enjoy such fine summer days.

I'm still moved when I think about it - they gave so much, a "fortune of tears", as the British poet Charles Causley put it. This Remembrance Day I give thanks to my Aunt Pat, Uncle Jack and to everyone who serves in whatever capacity and vow to live "like a spendthrift lover", cherishing the pulse of each dying day.

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