This was my third year playing the trumpet at my community’s Remembrance Day service. I played taps while the flag was lowered. Exactly how this role came to be mine, how I happened to be playing the trumpet at all and the whole convoluted account of my many misguided musical enthusiasms is a story for another day. Suffice to say that before me there was nobody. Taps was played by a perfect CD recording – which has been replaced by the imperfect living, breathing me. And everyone likes it much better. So this is a very rare case in which one of my ridiculous, poorly thought out ambitions (learning the trumpet) actually ended up filling a genuine purpose.
The motto is “Lest we forget” and since our community has many members of the older generation, our Remembrance Day service consists in large part of these people sharing first-hand accounts of World War II. Sadly, with every passing year there are fewer of these wise souls left to testify but as their numbers dwindle younger people are taking their place, coming forward to share the stories that were handed down to them by those who have since died.
One person told the story of how his grandfather, a Canadian soldier, gave a hungry Dutch girl a can of sardines. Without that small, thoughtful gesture he himself, the teller of the story, might never have been born. That girl later crossed an ocean to marry that soldier.
In Holland by the end of World War II people were surviving by eating tulip bulbs. I can’t imagine, in our life of peace and abundance, what that can of sardines meant to that girl. She probably took it back to her family and may only have tasted a tiny morsel of the gift herself. These days, in our pampered society, trust and commitment are symbolized by diamond rings, beautiful but cold, hard and utterly inedible, nourishing to neither the soul nor the body. Sardines mean nothing. People feed them to their cats.
So this is the point of Remembrance Day to me “lest we forget” the terrible sacrifices and suffering of war, “lest we forget” how lucky we are and why we are lucky, and “lest we forget” that the smallest of gestures can tell a total stranger who we really are.