A couple of years ago I was sitting in a coffee shop with Mr. Pear Tree on a Remembrance Day morning when 11 a.m. rolled around. Being 11 a.m. (according to my watch), we decided to take a moment of silence, while everyone around us chatted, laughed, and continued slurping their coffees.
I thought about that – that there I was, in a coffee shop, drinking chai latte with people all around me, chatting, laughing, slurping coffee, while veterans gathered around cenotaphs to remember their fallen comrades, and their own experiences at war.
Is this what they died for? I pondered to myself. So that we could drink coffee and not give their sacrifice a second thought?
I suppose that in a way it was. After all, they fought for freedom. Freedom to live, to decide, to enjoy leisurely pursuits. But because I so value that sacrifice, I don’t think a minute of silent tribute once a year is too much to ask.
I don’t actually have any immediate family who fought in any of the big wars that are remembered today. My maternal grandfather enlisted during WWII but was injured and discharged before he ever left Canada. Still, I’m so fascinated by these men and women, and their stories. Over the years I have interviewed a number of veterans, and their stories always leave me overwhelmed with a mixture of admiration, sadness, anger over what they (and others) went through, and pride.
When I take my moment of silence each year now, I think about the ones whose stories have stayed with me. Included in that roll is a Japanese PoW who helped build “The Death Railway” (so called, he said, because the soldiers that died on it were as many as the ties they put down) from Malaya to Burma, and an infantry vet who was nearly decapitated after his tank took out a German Panther tank in Italy and the two anti-tank guns beside it fired back. The last words his gunner spoke were “I got him, sir!” (It’s him this sergeant remembers every Nov. 11). Their stories are riveting, and I wish that everyone had a chance to talk with a war vet about their memories.
But before I get too deep, my minute finished on a rather lighter note that year. You see, the coffee shop didn’t forget to remember after all, and at c. 11:01 (according to my watch) a barista got everyone’s attention and announced that she was going to set the timer for one minute so would everyone in the crowded shop please respect our veterans with silence. The whole shop – those at the full-up tables and the long line in front of the counter, did so. The chatter stopped. The blenders and grinders behind the counter were quiet, as everyone began to reflect.
A man walked in, unaware of what time it was. All eyes fell on him, as everyone continued their micro-vigil of quiet. He felt the awkwardness, and didn’t know how to respond. It was like the room went dead upon his entry. No one moved. Everyone watched.
“Wow, that’s one hell of a line-up,” he offered.
“I guess I’ll just get in line.”
Then, I think, he realized what was happening, and fell into step. When the timer sounded and the barista said thank-you, he was the first to speak – “sorry, I didn’t realize at first what was going on,” he said to no one in particular and everyone in general.
As for me, I was just glad that they didn’t forget to remember.
– Words and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier
These photos were taken this morning during the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Rutland Cenotaph.