Nothing to You

Is It Nothing to You?

It is November 11th, 10 a.m. I am arriving at Victory Square for my annual visit to the cenotaph. I come here every year to be part of the remembering. I come to feel things that I don’t normally feel.

I don’t have a poppy yet. Apparently I don’t go to the places where the poppies grow, the liquor stores, the shopping malls, the super markets, and time goes by so quickly that my intention to track down a poppy fell by the wayside. I go to the first group of cadets I see who have boxes of poppies. I trade some filthy lucre for the purity of a poppy and I pin it over my heart.

While I am conducting my transaction, the first wave of participants marches past: the first marching band, the cadets in their navy blue with their white sailor caps, and the Mounties in their scarlet with their odd camel hats. My throat closes a bit and my eyes well up. This always happens to me on Remembrance Day, and for no reason. I come from a long line of disinterested Asian Canadians who verge on being apathetic. Other than one great uncle who died before I was born, none of my forebears took part in any of the famous western wars. My people have never been, and I’m not really, patriotic; to me being Canadian means I don’t have to think about it very often.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that I was born in a place where I don’t have to express my gratitude and prove my patriotism all the time. I don’t really have the energy to do this much more than once or twice a year. For this I feel grateful.

This year I notice that the cadets are predominantly pre-pubescent and of Chinese racial origin, it has to be at least 95%. They look like me (younger, of course), but I feel outside of whatever it is that they are. I have always felt outside of that. Not that I would ever have passed the physical, but I probably would have benefited from the discipline that a cadet would have to develop. I lose myself in the idea of those opportunities lost, and I feel a bit sad to have not become an altruist, that I would never have been capable of self sacrifice, that I am incapable of being part of a team.

That said, I have never wanted to be inside of anything military or martial, not even martial arts, and I have lived my life wanting to avoid war. I have not always been successful, because I am judgmental and outspoken; my pathological bluntness often gets me into trouble. For me conflict is an interpersonal phenomenon, almost a hobby.

Really, I think about nothing much. On Remembrance Day, at Victory Square, near the Cenotaph, I feel things I don’t normally feel. Right now I feel small.

I stand in the rain, under the tree near the corner of Hamilton and Pender, waiting for the pomp and splendour. I stand as far from people as I can, and I watch them. I hear people, and I judge them. I see people dressed inappropriately for the weather, and I judge them. I smell peoples’ perfume, and I judge them. I judge the purity of peoples’ reverence. I judge myself and I judge them. I stand myself away from others, but I try not to stand out too much. I stand in judgement.

The first year I came here two women stood behind me chatting, continuing even through the two minutes of silence. When I told my friend’s mother, the widow of a WWII Air Force vet, about them, she was less judgmental than I had been. “At least they were there,” she’d said.

At least they showed up, but they were not present and they got no stars for attendance from me.

I’m getting restless, so I walk down the hill to Hastings where I stand away from the crowd, between Hamilton and Homer. I hear ranting, a woman shouting “Don’t you follow me. I have a right to be here, I have a right to protest.” She comes out of the crowd and wanders a bit. She is walking a bit hunched over. A man in dress uniform follows. He is clearly of some authority, and she is clearly in an altered state.

There is a bit of indecision, and then she heads in my direction. I am, as is my tendency, standing in the middle of an empty space equidistant from everyone else. Right now my empty space is about twenty feet across, but this woman heads right for me. I am a magnet for people who are out of it, I think because I look directly at, and maybe into them, and even though they may not see me, they sense a stable presence. Like here, there was a bit of stumbling, then when she got into the range, she headed directly towards me without any hesitation. She is looking at me, but her eyes don’t look like they’re focusing right. She is waving a thin stick or something, so I pick up my stuff and move out of her way. Out of her reach.

The man in the dress uniform tells her to “Go away,” and I think about the irony. Even though he may have defended this area as a part of his concept of civilization, she lives down here, so it, as a reality, is hers and she is defending her rights to it now. I can see that the man does not understand this. He feels anger that she has disrupted his day, his party, his proceedings. “How dare she not show enough respect?” I can almost hear him thinking.

The police try to make her lie on the ground, then let her kneel. They hassle her a bit, then let her go. “Stay away,’ they say to her. She walks away continuing her rant as she goes. One of the cops gets on his bike and follows her.

I listen to his ride, and note that, even though it’s a Harley, it doesn’t sound like the modified ride of a biker. I was in a biker-run key shop one day, and it happened that a modified Harley drove past while I was there. The biker/owner had some friends with him, and every one of them, when that modified Harley drove past, pricked up their ears, and their bodies followed the sound a little. After it was gone they relaxed and one of them said, “I didn’t recognize that bike.” And the others concurred.

Then I figure that bikers modify the mufflers so that their Harleys make a characteristic rumbling sound that they can recognize from a distance, and so their rides don’t sound like the rides of the cops. It is part of being in their team.

I’m getting cold so I walk around a bit. I walk up to the corner of Cambie and Pender and try to continue east towards home, but I turn back and walk down to Hastings and Richards to watch the parade, which begins with the Right Honorable Gordon Campbell and a group of unidentified men strolling quickly to the Saluting Base that has been constructed at the bus stop in front of SFU Harbour Centre. He is followed by another group which includes His Honour the Honourable Steven Point, Lieutenant General of B.C. and his wife. Two men walk with them holding umbrellas over their heads. Steven Point’s wife wears a beautiful short coat with a Haida design on the back. Dorothy Grant, I think. It reminds me of a Robert Davidson painting that was in the Raven Traveling show at the Art Gallery – the one from the collection of Diana Krall and Elvis Costello.

Also in the Raven Traveling show was a video by Mike MacDonald, a friend, a Mi’k mak artist, a gardener, an environmentalist who passed in 2006. A few days before I attended the Raven Traveling show I’d been thinking of Mike, of how much I missed him, and his gifts of plants and his expertise. At Raven Traveling I unexpectedly found one of Mike’s videos playing, and I sat and watched it, the flowers and the butterflies, the airplanes and the spraying of the BTK over the city. At the end I sat through the credits and I saw the names of many of our friends, then in the thanks I saw my name. It was like Mike had dropped in to say “Hi”. If he did, I’d say, “Hi, Mike, I’ve missed you.”

The first group to march past is the actual WWII vets. They are old. There used to be enough of them that they marched in groups all like uniforms together. Now they are one or two of each uniform all marching together into one small-ish group, which makes me very sad. As they walk past, I stand a little taller than usual and I cry. I salute them.

Then a Pipe and Drum group. I love pipe and drum: when I was four years old I was sitting by the side of the road. Alone, as usual. I heard the sound of bagpipes and when I looked I saw a pipe band all alone marching down the street. They marched past me, each of them meeting my eye as they went past. I have, since then, had a weakness for pipe bands, not to mention shortbread cookies and boys of Scottish descent.

Then all the others, marching bands, current serving members, cadets, Mounties. Most of us clap in recognition of each group that passes. The final group is comprised of the Veterans Against Nuclear Weapons and the sole Veteran For Peace. They get more applause than anyone except for the first group of old vets. I agree with these; when I see military people advocating against nuclear weapons and for peace, I feel hope.

I feel clarity, I feel peace. I have been able to slow my ADHD brain a bit and keep myself from being judgmental for an hour or two, and for that I am grateful

Lest We Forget.

~ by thiscassandra on Thursday 20 November 2008.

2 Responses to “Nothing to You”

  1. Blogs are good for every one where we get lots of information for any topics nice job keep it up !!!

  2. hi old friend.

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