Picture me in high school in the 80’s, with big poofy bangs and high-waisted jeans. I was a clarinet-toting band dork, and a newbie in the archery club. I still lived on my dad’s farm just outside of Peterborough, Ontario.
For the first time in my sheltered country existence, I left Ontario to go on a history trip to the Vietnam war memorial, among other places with historical significance. Our task: to find the names of several Canadian soldiers on the wall and place a Canadian flag in the trough at the bottom.
To stand before such an enormous monument, knowing that each name represented a family who had lost struck not only me, but the entire group who stood around me.
We huddled, eyes unsure where to look.
Nobody spoke. That’s right. A group of rowdy teenager were rendered speechless.
But it wasn’t that moment that affected me so deeply.
An old woman hobbled along the walkway, clutching a tiny blue teddy-bear in her gnarled hands. She never glanced at the wall, as if counting the steps to her destination, or maybe she’d been there enough time to know where the name of her lost one could be found.
With some effort and groans, she knelt before the wall. Words I couldn’t hear passed from her lips as she clutched the bear to her chest before setting it at the base of the wall. She kissed her fingertips and pressed them to the name of her loved one.
I’m not sure what it was about her. She never wept. Not a single tear wet her lashes. She didn’t cry out or scream. Her grief enveloped her like a scar that shone out from within.
I had never been affected by anything–or anyone–so profoundly as the sight of that old woman by the wall. By the time I returned to the hotel room with my class, the poem had assembled in my head, one the school read for Remembrance Day that year.
From that moment I knew I had it in me.
I just had to wait for life to get out of the way before I could do it again.