Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. It’s impossible to imagine 50 thousand dead bodies; thank God, our minds don’t work that way. We have words for it, though — carnage, slaughter, butchery. We try to understand. We look at photographs of mud and blood and hollow haunted eyes and wonder, not so much how, as why. Why the hell would anyone let this happen? And then there’s that strange, weary sadness the spreads through us like a stain.
War is a million statistics, collected and bound in regret. We’re lucky that the numbers are too big to comprehend. But here’s the truth of it.
There’s a gravestone in France. It’s polished white and tidy. It sits in a field of thousands just like it — in the rain, the wind and the sunshine — and nobody knows it’s there. But once there was a woman, young enough to dance and flirt and sing in the garden. She knew where it was. She could find it in her sleep — and often did. And every year, while the politicians wore poppies and laid wreaths and swore by all their holy books they’d never do it again, she took the early train. She walked the gravel path. And she sat on the cold November grass and ate lunch with her tall, handsome husband. Once, in the rain, she swore and cried and cursed his selfish adventures. And, once, there were children, schoolgirls who pointed and whispered, and she wanted to warn them — but their teacher herded them away. And once she got a letter on fine white paper that asked if she would come and lay a wreath on behalf of “all the Widows and Orphans,” but she wrote back politely that, with regret, she was busy that day. And every year, year after year, the train ride got a little longer, the gravel path got a little steeper and the cold November grass got a little colder. And every year, year after year, she remembered what nobody else did — that once there was a girl who was young and in love, and once there was a boy who loved her, and together they liked to dance and flirt and sing in the garden.
Tomorrow is Remembrance Day, as we honour our veterans and rededicate ourselves to forever end the carnage, the slaughter and the butchery — please remember — that there’s a gravestone in France.