Written and narrated by Beck Norman.
SPRING IS INNOCENCE
Spring is innocence. A time of rebirth. The perennial season of hope when all things seem possible.
Spring is a time of being present, yet permissibly absent. A passport to daydreams. It is savored in measured teaspoons by the old and ravenously guzzled from endless decanters by the young.
A young woman, just 19 years of age, with windswept hair the colour of dark earth, finds a small rock by the side of a creek to sit upon and take her fill. If only every day of the year could echo this April day: the sun laughing on the water; the sky so beautiful, the colour of a robin’s egg.
Overhead, a wedding veil, spun from diaphanous clouds, reveals itself in the sky. A row of Queen Anne’s Lace that borders the water, speaks of gowns and elegant evenings to come. The young woman unfastens the cover of her diary and daydreams.
THE HEART EMBRACES LOVE
At 19, the heart falls in love so easily and with such passion. So great is this love that it can spill over into all things: not only family and friends, but art, music, work. And country. This patriotic ardor may even manifest into a noble desire to contribute to everyone; to make life better for all.
It may also fuel a hunger to protect one’s Eden; to preserve what is. When rumblings of foreign threats promise war, what actions can be accomplished – what deeds must be done – for love of country?
WHERE LOVE CAN GROW
At 19, the young woman can also see love. She spots it so clearly. Even in a town square, in a parade march. In the face of a young man, so dashing in his regimental uniform, who looked her way for just a moment, but smartly turned his head forward again and continued on. But he is also 19 and he too can see love. And so, determined to come back to find her. Since that day, the two of them - inseparable; spending countless hours in the square and in cafés before he must leave for the battlefront. Today – now – she is taking him to where she feels best. And where love can grow.
WILL WE MARRY?
At 19, her body can embrace love completely; intimately. The sights and sounds of a summer forest, alive and bursting, pale in comparison to the overwhelming yearning in her heart. She is with the dashing young man whose eyes are as blue as the robin’s egg sky she gazed up at, when she dreamt of such a day. And that man has touched her soul.
“Will we marry?” she asks him. “One day,” he answers. “When I come back from the war. When times are better and the world is safer. When we can start a family. That’s when we will marry.” And so, the young woman lies back, in her lover’s arms, and dreams of that day.
ETHOS AND CIRCUMSTANCE
Love at 19 is complicated in a time of war. Ethos and circumstance jostle for position. Prayer is needed. Prayer for safe returns. And for safe arrivals. The young woman’s body feels different now. And yet is comforted by a growing warmth. She prays that, when the dashing young man returns home from war, his arms will be strong enough to embrace one more.
HEARTBREAK AND RESILIENCE
Love at 20 can be heartbreaking yet resilient; and surprising. The war, at last, is over. But at such a cost. So many have not returned. The dashing young man is now an aching memory in the young woman’s soul; his absence, now a raw chasm in her heart. And yet how a life so large can be taken away and then be replaced by one so small is remarkable. The emptiness from the loss of the first is not so much filled by the other, as it is transformed. A baby boy is born to the young woman.
Together, mother and son carefully invite in and gather up the growing years. She, dedicated to him. He, the loving, happy son. Sometimes dreams, no matter how truncated, do come true.
CAP AND GOWN
And in the blink of an eye, the protective cloak she placed around her son, all those years ago, is no longer needed. Once large and thick and warm, it now barely covers his broad shoulders and is exchanged, with the cap and gown of his own accomplishments.
AND LOVE GROWS
The son, now a young man with a kind face, confidently strides up the aisle, from the stage. As he passes row upon row of spectators, his eyes catch the gaze of a young woman, with long red hair that flows from under her cap and onto her gown. He smiles at her, then smartly turns his head and continues on. He will remember where he saw her because he is 21 and can see love. So, determined, he comes back to find her. The young woman with the red hair, also being 21, makes sure she is easily found. And love grows.
To be 21 and in love. No longer children, they are self-assured and buoyed by that intoxicating mix of “few years lived” and “the vast time that lies ahead”. Two people together, both inspired by dreams and impassioned by desires.
Twenty-one years. It is also the time that has passed since the young man’s father marched off to war and, like so many others, paid the ultimate price. Yet, such tragic losses are somehow put aside when the next generation feels that their country, their ways of life, must be defended. And, this posture becomes entwined with the hope that this fight will be the last fight. Noble. And nonsense.
A new war has been declared.
The young man with the kind face and the young woman with the flowing red hair know they both must enlist in the coming conflict. But they vow that when they return, then they will marry, then they will start a family.
And, in this new time of war, ethos and circumstance once again jostle for position and decide when life can end. Or begin. The young woman with the red hair steels herself. Her body feels different now but her soul upholds the resolute conviction to protect her Eden. And therefore she silences all concerns. She can be careful and brave. She is 21 and surely, this “show of arms” is but a moment in a lifetime. The young woman quietly prepares.
As daylight takes its place behind darkness, memories tease the young man with the kind face. So many glimpses of past nights of laughter and love; of limitless time. Such reminiscences become entangled with a youthful, unyielding belief that each blissful evening will surely lead to a next and a next.
Tomorrow’s battle, he prays, will be but a “moment”. A brief detour along his path.
Before the Rouse, the young man is compelled to commit to paper those words he has carried in his heart for a lifetime. A mother’s love is unwavering; his mother’s love has been doubly strong and steadfast, always given to him without question. That sole dedication has made him the man he has become. She never sought acknowledgement or tribute, but now is the time for them. The young man, sits, takes out his journal and gives thanks before the battle. Before “the moment” comes.
And, as her son writes, far away the older woman – with windswept hair the colour of dark earth, now laced with the colour of stone – cries, fearful of what may come for both her son and his lover. The older woman knows that to lose one’s life in war is the ultimate “moment”; significant, heart-piercing, but then gone. But to lose one’s love? It’s a lifetime of pain.
And a mother prays.
“The moment.” It felt like an eternity; a damnation in hell. Soldiers, who will soon be names on letters, and then cards, and then stone, lie silent on the ground. Those who are able, move slowly, in guilt-ridden stupors. And all this sacrifice. What was it for? What has been accomplished? Has Eden been preserved or decimated?
WHEN FLAGS ARE FLOWN
When flags are flown – or draped – and tears of happiness – or grief – are shed, the world tries to revert to what it was, before the awful mess of defending one’s country. But it’s never quite the same. The wounds may heal but will leave frightening scars, that will be hidden so as not to scare the next generation.
But that is a truth for another day. In this moment, there is an urgent task at hand: those ravaged by war must be repatriated. A nation raises its voice. “We must bring back our own,” it demands. While the Poet confirms, “We will always welcome you home.”
STORIES MUST BE TOLD
On a rock by a creek, an old woman sits with a small child. Remembering isn’t always easy, but stories must be told. The Queen Anne’s Lace that borders the water looks like the bodice of a vintage gown; a gown that once draped a young woman who spent endless evenings in the arms of a dashing young man.
The small child looks up to the sky that’s as blue as a robin’s egg. The woman smiles. A robin’s egg is a reminder of spring. And in spring, all things seem possible.
[To read "We Will Welcome You Home" (the poem), click here.]