This is something I needed to write. Something I needed to share. With eagerness, a need for it to be out there: to declare the remembrance, to express gratitude, and to send love home. Consider it an open letter, and a whole lot of love.
I feel the pull in my chest. That yank which changes how you look at the world. The one that makes you grateful, sad, and joyous. This past weekend was a profound one. I know that my words here will never do it justice, but I can try. I can show you a touch of what I saw, as I filled my memory card to the brim.
This past Monday was the 95th anniversary of Vimy Ridge. It was an important battle for the Canadians in the First World War. It was the first time all the Canadian troops had worked together, giving us a reputation as soldiers not to be messed with. It was “the birth of a nation”. So many died there, fighting for it, for us. Walking through the battlefields, up to the Canadian monument, through the cemeteries, you could feel the power of that war nearly a century later. It’s not something we can dare forget.
My uncle had mentioned that he was going to be in Vimy, for the memorial. It took all of two seconds to know that I had to go: to see him, but also to see this essential piece of Canadian history. Now, I know it was so much more. It was some of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time. It was great Canadian music (played by truly wonderful people). It was heartbreaking. It was beautiful. It is one of the weekends that I will never forget, for all of that and the tug in my chest.
It wasn’t hard to tear up, even knowing that what I saw wasn’t even the half of it. 95 years has masked so much of the death and destruction, but all that valour and emotion is still there. It’s in the air, and didn’t take long to hit home. I’m still processing so much of it, and I’m sure I will be for awhile. Thank goodness the weekend ended with a concert. It lifted spirits, showcased talent, and brought us all together.
Thank you Hugh, John, Geoffrey, Vince, Tobin, Merm, Chris, Matthew, Keith, Sarah, Tim, Kinley, Phil, Emmet, Adam, Josh, Romesh, Katie, Mr. Johnston, everyone at EF, the Easter bunnies, Arras, Lievin, Vimy, all the Veterans, and everyone else whose path I crossed this weekend. I know I’m missing so many names, but thank you all. You’ve left an impression.
Even sculptures on the monument were weeping. Drops fell from the sky, and we each wandered in our own way, reading the names of those without a gravestone. So many names carved into the stone. Lines of last names. Of my last name, and names of those I love. There was even an L. McMillan. It doesn’t hit closer to home than that.
How does one put into words a cemetery? So many lives, so many stories. Pleas on tombstones from mothers. Stones without a name, regiment or anything to say who they were. Boys buried under my feet, even younger that I.
The landscape had such charge. Unnatural, with craters everywhere. You could imagine the war’s destruction, while also not having a clue of what it entailed. The ground which still holds unexploded munitions, that must be taken away with the freezing and thawing each year.
The trenches. Where so many soldiers would have worked. Where my great-grandfather likely put his master builder skillset to work. Where there would have been order, valour, and chaos.
Some of the heavy stuff was broken up by walks. Getting lost in Arras, stumbling upon randomness and beauty. J’ai trouvé architecture surprisingly different from what I see each day in the Alps. J’ai aussi parlé plus d’anglais que tous les autres week-ends en France.
Hey Rosetta! Kind, wonderful people playing great music, and putting on a marvelous show.
Spirit of the West. Fabulous music played and performed by kind, wonderful people.
There you have it. Some snippets from this weekend. Add a mini Easter egg hunt, a handful of fantastic meals, and great conversations, you have a trip unlike anything I’ve experienced thus far. Merci à tout le monde qui était là. I hope that our paths cross again sometime soon.