Poppies of Remembrance

Today is Wednesday April 25th. ANZAC Day.

As a foreigner in New Zealand, or as I like to think of myself, a modern-day Pakeha, when talk of ANZAC Day became more frequent I searched for some sort of reference point to base my expectations off of. Some likened it to the 4th of July while others said it was more like a September 11th memorial service. I got the distinct feeling that those we made these suggestions had been to neither. So with no real enlightenment I set my expectations high for a true glimpse of what it means to be a New Zealander, set my alarm for 5 a.m. When it went off it was easy to hit snooze about 7 times and list countless reasons why being in my bed was so much better than not. But I heard murmur of people in the street bellow and the door of one of my neighbors open and close so I knew I wouldn’t be alone in the whole ordeal and finally dragged myself upright. I poked my head out the window for a peak and was pleasantly surprised to find a meandering but consistent flow of people towards the Domain. So far I had not underestimated ANZAC Day. I hurriedly got ready (lots of layers for the Dawn Ceremony) and joined the throng. I just kept thinking that going was the least I could do since they gave me a day off and in a few hours I’d be back in my bed again. It didn’t take long to notice that it felt as if all of Auckland was on their way to the park, the long line of people, cars, and even some tour buses stretched farther than I could see and were literally all going in the same direction. Now, as I said I had little knowledge of what to expect, but I can tell you I hadn’t been expecting to get emotional. After all, this isn’t my country, right? I’m in no way a Kiwi, just a simpler passer-by with a strong curiosity. But as I wound my way through the dark park pathways surrounded by couples, families, and groups of friends the sound of the bagpipes reached my ears. They were playing Amazing Grace. I thought of Cap and I felt my tears make their presence known.

Lest we forget.

Thousands of people gathered around the Memorial Pillar in the center of the gardens next to the War Museum. I immediately felt comforted by the crowd. This is a day of remembrance, not mourning. While there were some tears, there was no public showing of real grief. The bagpipes played their melodies and a lone trumpet called to the fallen soldiers. A Maori horn was blown into the wind, calling all who hear it to prepare themselves, to remember. We prayed in English and in Maori, we sang hymns and National Anthems. And with each passing moment my sense of otherness faded—even though I didn’t know the words. I realized I’m an important part of the New Zealand identity, just as it has become an important part of mine. We stood in silence, the Prime Minister, the Mayor of Auckland, soldiers, cadets, the families of the fallen, citizens by law and by heart, and listened to the bugle call out into the darkness. And the sun rose, again.

Lest we forget.

We prayed for peace and love and in graciousness for a new day and a renewed purpose. And after the fly-over and the battalions cleared the stage the masses of people dispersed, humming about what they had just seen and how they felt. I took the long way home to avoid the crowd and think a little. I think the ceremony was a little bit routine for them, familiar. I needed a little time and space to process. I could feel life going back to its normal pace; traffic moving, impatient little ones trying to get home, the birds singing to their breakfast from every branch, and even my own blood flowing a little faster as I climbed the hill to Huia. And then a little red poppy pinned to a lapel walking by me caught my eye and I remembered. And the sun continued to rise.
Lest we forget.  

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