I recently had a short visit with my 18 year-old son who is living on his own in what is undoubtedly the most bizarre time to attend college. But he wanted to be independent.
Still, I cannot express how happy it makes me to see his face. He changes a little each time I see him. His maturity. His wonderfully warped humour. I adore him.
Sometimes I have to practice not worrying if he is eating well, budgeting smartly, or if he has gotten into any of the mischief that almost every first-year student encounters. Also, why does it take three days to respond to my texts?
But as Remembrance Day approaches, I imagine myself in the shoes of a mother who would have kissed her boy goodbye before sending him off to war. Maybe all of her sons. And her spouse. Just stop for a second and put yourself in her shoes.
Teenagers, fresh out of school, many from the farm fields, too young to even know who they wanted to be or what the big world had to offer them. And look what it offered them: the nightmarish reality of war. My son can handle a pandemic smartly. Trench warfare? Only in a video game.
While I fret over whether or not I have stocked my son’s freezer with good meals, these mothers literally sent their children into uncertain death and waited for a word, a confirmation in the mail that they were alive, or not.
I wonder how it would feel knowing their children couldn’t possibly be prepared for anything they were about to experience or endure. Who is ever prepared for war? But off they went, some not even ready for their first shave, much less their first kiss. Gone, with absolutely no guarantees of a safe return. My heart actually cannot bear to let myself stay in these mother’s shoes for too long. It’s a reality I cannot fathom.
But that thought was brought home to me every time I captured one of Wellington County’s veteran’s faces with my camera this week. Leading up to Remembrance Day, I was given the task to photograph every veteran banner in participating communities across our region.
From Erin and Fergus to Drayton, Palmerston, Harriston and Clifford, I was in awe of the streets lined with the faces and names of veterans who once roamed these same streets, who went to our schools and whose ancestry is forever entrenched in our small-town history.
So many young, handsome, hopeful faces bearing an innocence that would quickly fade. Amongst the banners were older veterans whose stoic strength did not mask their sense of honour.
One by one, town by town, I read their names and captured their images. Lest We Forget. It’s not an expression; it’s an action.
Some lament that youth today have no comprehension of the sacrifices made in war. Of course they don’t. Let’s not wish any such lessons on future generations.
The veteran banners are a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. When a community honours their own, it speaks volumes of the importance of community. Family. Honour. Home.
Those young faces want us to live well in the shadows they cast. Small towns have big hearts. So do our heroes. Speak their names.