I don’t remember her name; I should pay more attention to details like that. But I remember her eyes. They were a brilliant blue, beautiful. Kind, and warm. I could have imagined falling in love looking into those eyes.
We were sitting beside each other, randomly, at my kids’ Remembrance Day Concert. The woman had gone to the same school when she was a child. She must have been 80 years old now. She remembered when all the neighbourhoods south of the school, just north of what is now the Queen Elizabeth Way in Toronto, were sprawling farms. We talked about how times had changed.
We sang Oh Canada together. Listened to Amazing Grace and some other songs performed by the kids. Smiled at how damn cute they all are. Nodded together at the words of reflection and gratitude spoken by the principal. And then the grade 1’s and 2’s, I think it was (I should pay more attention to details like that…), recited In Flanders Fields.
….”We are the dead….not long ago we lived…..”
….”To YOU, from failing hands we throw the torch…”
And I think my life changed in that moment. Time seemed to stop, and I looked at the woman sitting beside me with the kind eyes, thinking of her attending this same ‘concert’ every year for the past 75 years, looking at the little kids reciting the same lines I recited, 35 years ago, thinking of the people in Flanders Fields, about 100 years ago.
Have you ever wondered, what “Torch” were they throwing to us? What were we supposed to hold high? What faith did they have that if we broke it, they would not sleep?
Is it the torch of war? Did they want us to keep fighting, to keep killing each other, to keep distrusting, hating, wanting, taking?
Were we supposed to hold high the ideals of consumption? Of taking more and more and more for ourselves, if we have the means to do so? Of turning a living world into a toxic dump?
Of leaving less and less for the future?
Did they hope that we would use the freedom we are always told they were fighting for, to spend almost a century waging a war on drugs, so that we could have organized crime, Vancouver’s Lower East Side, a high school prescription drug crisis, and fentanyl dropping people like flies?
Did they hope for Islamaphobia? For race wars? Gender wars?
Would they be proud of a President who calls people names like a badly-behaved child, calls their grandchildren and great-grandchildren “sons of bitches” for standing up, or rather kneeling down, to express their own deepest moral convictions, and then casually threatens to destroy more people than combatants killed in the entire first World War?
Did they hope we would raise children by shaming them, berating them for being stupid, or clumsy, or ‘what the hell is wrong with you, why can’t you do anything right?’ Did they hope we would eat lunches with our own kids but ignore them because we are looking at a tiny glowing screen in our hands? Did they hope that nobody would remember the songs they grew up singing, that in fact, we wouldn’t even sing together anymore, tell stories, or even…..value the past, most of the time?
Did they hope that if their comrades-in-arms, their fellow soldiers, lived long enough to be “old,” that we would put them in homes and largely ignore them?
Did they hope that police would control and attack civilians using chemical weapons and military hardware?
Did they hope for a country that gives damn-near-free-access to guns that are designed specifically to slaughter human beings in large numbers, resulting in regular slaughters of human beings in large numbers?
Did they hope we would have Nazis? Sacrifice millions and millions of lives defeating those Nazis? And before the soldiers who even did that were able to see out the end of their lives, we would have NAZIS again?
Did they hope we would be depressed? That we would feel alone, ashamed of ourselves, empty, wondering if life has any meaning? Did they hope that we would be afraid to speak out, that we would not believe in ourselves, that we would be too scared, or just too ‘comfortable’ and lazy, to “rock the boat”?
Have we kept their faith by creating an extremely small group of — let’s just say it — disgustingly, disgustingly, disgustingly wealthy people, while killing off as many other cultures, languages, species and ecosystems as we could in order to create more people living in poverty today than even EXISTED at the time of Flanders Fields?
Did they hope that their great-grandchildren (that’s us, more or less….), would bring the entire world to the point that our own grandchildren probably won’t ever have children?
Read that sentence again. Please. It’s worth it.
The service ended, and the woman and I said goodbye. I reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder and we kinda….stood there for a second and smiled at each other. We walked out of the church. A cold fall day.
That woman has spent her last 75 years in this community, contributing to her church, her neighbours, her family, just by being here, by being who she is, knowing who she knows, which seemed to be almost everybody. She paid attention to details like that. She kind of….glowed almost, it seemed to me, as we walked into the sunshine and yellow-orange leaves on the ground.
I know now….I am that burning torch.
And so are you.