(photograph of a lone red poppy in a field of oats)
We went to the War Museum in Ottawa a long while back. We'd been to the one in London and the one in Manchester. We'd toured the various displays, we'd seen what was set out to be seen. But once, we saw more.
Here's some of what we'd managed to see, feel and experience:
We sat, huddled together with other tourists, in a recreation of a London Bunker, as it shook, and shook, and shook us - the very floor trembling, the sound of bombs falling blasted through speakers. We all tried hard to engage our imaginations, to feel the fear and the terror and the mind numbing endlessness of the minutes sat in darkness.
We rode through a recreation of a trench, luckily made wheelchair accessible, in Ottawa. Again we engaged our imagination. Each of us looked up cautiously, as if we would soon see shots fired cross the top. The earth seemed so close, the trench just couldn't be deep enough for us to stay even 'pretend' safe.
We visited the 'Animals at War' exhibition in Manchester, we were moved both by the tales of gallantry and courage of the animals as they died saving mankind. The most difficult picture to look at was a portrait of a dog, a photograph taken sometimes before the dog died in violent combat. The eyes looked out, not as dog eyes do, but instead completely tired. I'd never seen such hopelessness in the eyes of an animal before.
Ottawa was the last of these museums we visited. It's wonderfully done, brilliantly laid out. It tells story after story about loss and bravery, about love and combat, about hope and desolation. But mostly it tells the simple story of violence. I like going to these places, I like being reminded that my freedom is not a gift but a duty. I like being reminded that others fought and died, so that I might have a free voice and with that voice comes responsibility.
On our last visit to the museum in Ottawa, I realized that I had seen an exhibit not planned. An accidental display not curated by someone, not designed and set out for our education and edification. I asked Joe to excuse me for a moment and I rolled back. I was in the hall where they display the machinery of war. Tanks, planes, huge guns, imposing creations, with frightening efficiency in their lines all sat silent amidst the chatter of children and the shushing of adults. I rolled up close to a small tank. Just a very small tank. I looked closely to see if I had seen what I thought I saw. If my mind had mistakenly called me to go back. If the birth of a small hope in my heart was mistaken. Would it be there? I was sure I was wrong. I often am in these moments when poetry takes over from reality. But no. This time I had seen what I'd seen. It was there. And it mattered. On the treads that ran over the wheels that gave traction was something utterly beautiful.