If it wasn’t for her request the night before, we wouldn’t have gone. My four year old daughter wanted to go to an Anzac Day parade.
I had not attended anything Anzac before. No soldiers in my family. No huge feelings of patriotism. And being a pacifist, I confess to not really being interested in anything to do with war – even past wars. Still, my daughter was interested, so we did a google search and found there was a parade and memorial service in our town.
The next morning we ran late. We arrived to see the tail-end of the parade down the main street. So I took my girl’s hand and we dashed through the crowd. We followed the drum beats of the band towards the cenotaph across the village green where a memorial service was about to start.
As the ceremony began, so began the questions from the four year old. Opening with: What is war?
And then: Why do countries fight each other?… Do people die even if they don’t want war?… Will there be any wars tomorrow?
I whispered my answers into her ear: I really don’t know why countries go to war… Most people want peace… And do you know the best way to stop wars from happening tomorrow? It starts right here in our hearts, It’s about how we treat our friends, it’s about being kind and caring for other people’s feelings.
As we sat there, listening to speakers, surrounded by a silent crowd, I felt a strange welling up of emotion. It made no sense at all. I fought those damn tears back. Is this who I’ve become? A 41 year old mother with post-traumatic disorder and a propensity for public weeping? Probably, yes.
As people and community groups went to lay wreaths of flowers, they announced into the microphone who they were. Towards the end of the procession, a young man spoke. He said he was there for his father, Graeme. He marched forward, wearing his father’s badges on his jacket, and rested his flowers down. Well, at that point I bawled. I also have a father named Graeme. Our shared humanity hit me. We were honouring his father. And it could have been any of our fathers.
It was only then that I realised that even a non-Anzac pacifist can pay respect to soldiers. This day wasn’t about war, it was about being human. I’m a slow learner sometimes, I know. I know.
The ceremony ended with the national anthem. My daughter loves this song, she can recite every word. But she’d only ever sung it alone. Her eyes lit up when she realised she was singing it with the strength of the community around her. Yes, this is what anthems are for – for making us not feel alone.
As the anthem finished she looked up at me and said “Mum, I don’t want to be at war with anyone.”
And I imagined for a moment all four year olds in the world telling their mothers the same thing.
I am not at war with anyone – Luka Bloom