I struggled to read his name.
I don’t know why, at that moment, it was so important to me. Reading didn’t come easily for me and most times I avoided trying. But in that moment. It was important. I was a very young boy and I’d been taken to the town cenotaph for a Remembrance Day ceremony. We were children. We heard Flanders Field read, poorly, by another child who strung the words together like they were sounds to be said rather than words to be understood. The ceremony had held no meaning for me.
But then, a man got up with difficulty, held himself steady by holding on to the lectern, began to talk about his brother. His brother who went off to war, he because of his disability could not go. There was anger and self hate in his voice, he had wanted to be at his brother’s side. But now he was here to do something important, tell us that his brother lived, laughed and was a big hearted kid. As I listened I understood several things.
He loved his brother.
His brother loved life.
His brother was dead.
And we were not.
It was at that moment that I understood why we were there, on a gray and cold November morning. They had used the words ‘heroes’ all morning. And a hero, to a child, is Spiderman and Superman and Wonder Woman. A hero, to a child, is immortal. A hero couldn’t possibly be a brother who didn’t come back, could he? A hero couldn’t possibly feel fear, feel pain, dread death, could they?
Standing there seeing a man, holding on to a lectern, standing with effort in the memory of his brother, break into tears, moved me. Men, in my small world, didn’t cry. Men, in my small world, didn’t let emotion break in their voice. Men, in my small world, went to war and came back. My dad did. I thought all dads did.
He finished his short speech, slipped back into his wheelchair, bowed his head and silently wept. I found I was crying, for this man and for his brother who was lost to him. I turned to the cenotaph and saw the long list of names. I understood, now, that these were the unreturned. I understood that they were gone. That they had family, that missed them, like the man in the wheelchair missed his brother.
There was a name at eye level.
I struggled to read it. I wanted to hold a name in my mind and my heart. It took work but I read the name ‘Brian.’ I felt a small victory. I’d read the name. Then I tried the last name and saw that it began with a Zed and I gave up without trying.
But ‘Brian’ was enough.
I held him in my heart. Whoever he was. However he died. Wherever he lay at rest. I hold him in my heart. Because he might have been a hero. But heroes can fall.
And they do.
In service to my country.
In protection of the freedoms I have.
Like Brian fell.