With all beings and all things we shall be as relatives.
– The Sioux People
A piece of paper…
He probably couldn’t explain why he did so, but he grabbed a piece of paper on the beach at Normandy and put it into his pocket.
That might be a normal reaction in normal times.
This was not a normal day, nor a normal time.
It was the Second World War, D-Day, 6 June 1944!
He had leapt from a landing craft into the blood-soaked water. He had dodged floating debris, barbed wire and the bodies of friends and comrades. He clambered onto a beach once known for beauty and joy, now transformed by the gods of war into a place of horror and mayhem cloaked in deafening, cataclysmic noise. Each noise carries death as its end.
Later, in the comfort of a hole he’d dug in the earth, John Paterson read the writing on the paper: “They say you will not come again,” it began in an unknown hand, “but I shall always hear your voice in silence, and in song, and feel you ever near.”
“They say you have passed beyond, unto the joy supreme, but I can always call you back into the land of dream.”
“For death is but a gateway to the great reality, a new beginning, not an end of human destiny.”
“For love is all, and life goes on in spite of grief and pain, and deep within my heart I know that we shall meet again.”
A piece of paper, like a silent bird, blown by the winds of war, written from the loneliest place of all, grief.
Who, we continue to wonder, though we will never know!
A wife perhaps, crying in the silence of a now empty home? A mother gazing at photographs of him as a baby, his first steps, his graduations, his … and tears come again. A father perhaps, sitting on a river’s edge gazing at the water, like life, still flowing steadily onward and remembering Jim’s questions: “In my younger years,” Jim had said, “I asked, ‘Why were my friends killed in war?’ As I grew older my question became, ‘Why were my friends killed in war, why not me?’ Now I am older still, and I ask, ‘Why is anyone killed in war?’”
Who among us can answer Jim’s questions? Who among us can answer a question we add to Jim’s? Is there one among us who can name one family in this world, of the countless generations, untouched by war?
Like it or not, past wars are now but paper in historic tomes gathering dust while new wars, new victims, and new mourners join the mantra of the gods of war — war without end.
Once a year we say we will not forget, but as a nation, all too often we have.
Warriors lay their life on the line, governments lay talk, and too often neglect, on the line. For half a century we forgot the vets of the Korean War, First Nation vets, widows, war brides; it’s too long a list. We wouldn’t acknowledge Canadians who went to Vietnam — all of these warriors treated as a piece of paper blowing on a lonely beach with no John Paterson in high places to pick it up and do the right thing.
Let us no longer let the egos of political partisanship stand in the way of recognizing, appreciating and remembering those who have bought us the freedoms we cherish, and use so freely. We would not be enjoying the wonder of the Yukon, nor the freedoms of this peaceful land of Canada, had they not put their family, their homes, their dreams on hold and gone to war.
And let us remember this day, our young warriors in Afghanistan, who, at this very moment, walk the same trail of war their families walked before them, and their families before them and their families before them.
They’re giving us their best, they deserve no less from us.
Lest we forget.
Do not follow where the path may lead – go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.