I won’t lay a wreath at our local cenotaph this November 11th – not because I wouldn’t like to. I’ll be a thousand miles away, caring for my smallest grandbean, now two, while his parents take in a conference.
Ezra stands at our fridge rearranging the vintage Dick and Jane magnets, the sun illuminating his wheat-white hair. Halo-framed like that, he points with one chubby index finger to a photo of his family, higher up the door. One by one he touches his parents, then each sibling, saying their names aloud. His sweetly twisted syllables tickle me, and I notice how his face changes as he recites the names of each of his eight family members.
He points to himself last, still a babe on our daughter’s lap. Then he raises his face to mine. “Nimmy, Nana? Dat one Nimmy?” (He calls himself by his own nickname.)
“That’s right, Ezra. That’s you. You were just tiny!”
It’s become a ritual. We repeat it every time he visits. He marches to the fridge and stands there, looking for those people he loves. He likes Dick and Jane too, and Sally and Puff. But the names of his own family? Those are his people. His favourites, and he cannot forget them.
I’ve seen other people regularly stand before a tall surface – a cenotaph. Slightly bowed, looking for or simply remembering names, their lips forming the syllables. Parents, sons and daughters; siblings, friends and compatriots. I’ve been one of those people, paying my respects at cenotaphs I’ve visited over the years. Thinking of the soldiers I’ve read and heard of, and some I’ve known and loved. People who once stood small as young Ezra, and who played like him too. Heroes to us all. Our people, and we cannot forget them.
God forbid that another world war should summon our young men and women, in whatever arena it could play out in a future generation. “To everything there is a season,” reads the litany of Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 3:8 “A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace…”
Peace, Lord. Please.
But peace begins with a state of heart, rather than a state of nation. And judging by the news, the state of too many hearts is (to rob from scripture) deceitful and desperately wicked.
On November 11th, I’ll stroll the streets of Banff, Alberta, with Nimmy. I’ll gaze up at the surrounding Rockies and imagine them a colossal national cenotaph on which is written the names of every serviceperson who has paid the ultimate price for this country’s peace. Then I’ll imagine every tree a wreath and every creature a witness. I’ll stop and bow my head in gratitude, and I’ll whisper a prayer for the peace that Jesus promised his followers:
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27