The sky is clouded over. Small snowflakes fall from above and, as each one lands on my cheek, it melts to join the tears that are present. The cold stings my flesh but I don't notice. I look at the people around me and think, "why?" Their old, withered faces have seen so much death, so much suffering. The memories still haunt them. I look around again and see little children laughing. If only they knew. If only they could understand. I'm not sure I even understand.
What could possibly make an 18-year-old boy leave his home, his country to fight an enemy he has never met? What could possibly be so powerful that you would pick up a rifle, pull a trigger and take away every hope and dream another person had? The image of a lone individual screaming in a sea of blood fills my mind and I look towards the sky.
I look upon poppies piled at the bottom of the faceless monument and catch a glimpse of a figure wrought with grief. The medals on his chest are small consolation for the lives that have been lost. Forty million in his war. Twenty-five more in another. I am a coward and a fool. It has taken me 24 years to realize the sacrifice these people made so I could stand here and forget. I promise myself I will never forget.
Everyone I know has a story: "My great uncle took 83 pieces of shrapnel on a field in France," "My grandfather watched as his best friend climbed out of a trench and was instantly cut to pieces in a blaze of machine gun fire." It affects us all.
The cold finally becomes too unbearable and I leave. I wonder what other people think. Do they see this as a day off work? To go out and get drunk knowing that they can sleep in? Do they see it as a tired cliché, as a day that should be forgotten and that the past should be put to rest?
The reality of it came over me like a tidal wave last year as I stood before the memorial. My ancestors, and yours, were part of something that was so much bigger than themselves. They fought because they believed so strongly in what they were doing, and many of them never came back.
Would I go? Would you?