November 11: an Ordinary Day

11 November 2019 – A little cool, a little grey, but a perfectly ordinary, peaceful day. A good day to do whatever you want, go wherever you want.

Wander down to the south-east curve of False Creek, for example. Enter via Hinge Park, where the “Rusty Sub” sits in perfect camouflage amidst the rusty bullrushes of the adjacent tiny watercourse …

Or lead your dog into (or out of) the off-leash dog park that borders Hinge Park …

Eye the remaining produce in the Village Community Garden, but politely keep your fingers to yourself …

Cock a thoughtful eye at the public art atop that pedestal in False Creek or, if it’s not much to your taste, focus instead on the man peacefully sculling by  …

Eye the ferries (Aquabus left, rival False Creek line right) that just as peacefully share the waterway with scullers, dragon-boaters, kayakers, assorted yachts & each other …

Check the ferry schedule on Spyglass Dock …

Feel free to write a moving plea for gratitude on a nearby tree …

Or feel equally free to denounce the plea as vandalism …

Rest beside your bicycle in Olympic Village plaza, or perhaps hunker down behind one of its public benches in a game of Hide & Seek …

Indulge yourself with a selfie in Mollie Burke’s Unfolded art installation …

Or settle down outside an Olympic Village creek-side café, while you check your smartphone for messages.

But keep that Remembrance Day poppy (above) close to hand.

Because an “ordinary” day of peace, calm, safety, choice and good humour is an extraordinary gift.

Those of us fortunate enough to experience it should always be grateful, always remember all the people and all the effort and vigilance that make it possible.

So, as a whistle echoes across the water at 11 a.m., and the Fraser Blues fly overhead in tight formation …

look up, say thank you,

and remember.

 

 

“We remember them”

 

10 November 2018 – I am in a hurry, pressed for time, just striding down the Cambie Street hill: “Out of my way! I have things to do!”

And I stop flat at City Hall, not for the architecture I love so much, but for this:

Almost Remembrance Day, and isn’t this cascade of poppies a touching & wonderful sight? How could I power on by, oblivious?

I step into the installation, begin to read its signs.

I keep reading. There is history.

I nod, like these children, to the Tower of London project — but, above all, I nod to Lieut.-Col. John McCrae, the Canadian surgeon, poet, author and artist who enlisted at the outset of the War, in August 1914, despite being 41 years of age. He served as Medical Officer with the 1st Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery.

In April-May 1915, he tended the wounded at the Second Battle of Ypres, the first battle in which poison gas was used. During that prolonged battle, he wrote the poem that has made poppies a world symbol for remembrance.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow…

All of it is powerful, but I am most touched by this very human stanza part-way through:

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields.

The poem has been recorded by Leonard Cohen, another author/poet/global Canadian.

Here at one precise intersection in one city in one province in one country in a whole world of remembrance, I read the words of the children who created this installation, this year.

Stepping gingerly around poppies, careful not to step on a single one, I keep reading.

They should feel good, about their own craftsmanship, along with everything else.

And so history lives within us, and through us, generation to generation, and we interpret present meaning from past events.

John McCrae survived the Second Battle of Ypres, but not the war. His asthmatic lungs further weakened by the poison gas, he died of pneumonia in 1918, in Boulongne-sur-Mer, France.

He lies in the nearby Wimereux Communal Cemetery, one of 2,847 Commonwealth soldiers to share that final resting place. If you’re ever in Guelph, Ontario, visit his childhood home, now museum.

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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