Today, on Remembrance Day, I wanted to share a monologue I wrote in honour of those who go, and those they leave behind.
A Wartime Mother’s Story
My son left today.
It’s something almost too unbearable to put into words: the sight of your boy, your only child, standing on the bottom step, clinging to the rail with one hand and waving with the other as the train pulls slowly out of the station.
He was handsome, though, in his uniform. He looked so much like his father that for a moment… well, it certainly took me back. His father was the same age my boy is right now when I first laid eyes on him. We met one Friday night and that Sunday afternoon we were married.
It happened like that often back then. It was 1917 and the war in Europe was raging. Three years earlier, when it all started, we thought it would be over in a matter of weeks. By 1917 no one was making any predictions any more. And none of us knew, when we said good-bye to our men at the station, if we would ever see them again. So we got caught up in whirlwind romances and marriages, a way of forgetting, for just a few hours, about what was going on in the world. About how the happiness we had found could just as quickly be torn away.
That Monday my husband shipped out. He stood, like my son did today, on the bottom step, holding on to the railing as the train pulled slowly away. “I’ll be back soon,” he promised, lifting a hand in farewell.
I watched him until the train had disappeared, until the last billows of black from the smokestack had dissipated in the warm spring air.
My son said the same thing today. “I’ll be back soon.” The words hung in the air like the smoke had that day, gradually thinning to wisps before fading away. I smiled when he said it, but my throat went so tight I could hardly swallow. No one knows better than I do that a soldier going into battle may want to, may try with everything he has in him, but he can’t always keep that promise.
His father didn’t. Passchendaele. I had never even heard of that place but it was there, on the sixth of November, 1917, that the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions attacked. By November 10th the Canadian Corps had taken Passchendaele in one of the decisive victories of World War I. My husband did not live to see the end of the battle.
I was fighting my own battles at home. Battles against fear, against loneliness, against hunger and, when the news came that he had paid the ultimate price for freedom, against despair.
But God was faithful. In my darkest hours, all I could cling to was that He was there and that He alone could promise to never leave me.
The son my husband would never see was born two months later. I called him Jonathan, God has given. And that is what he has been to me, a gift from God.
But now a new threat has come. The German leader, a terrible man they call Hitler, is threatening to invade all of Europe, and just 21 years after the war to end all wars finished, another has begun. I want to hold on to my Johnny, to grasp his hand in both of mine and refuse to let him go.
But I cannot. He is not mine, not really. He is a gift and I gave him back to God the day he was born. If he thinks God is calling him to go, to fight for his country and for peace and freedom here and around the world, what can I do? Only the same thing mothers have done for thousands of years: let him go and then get down on my knees and pray for his safe return.
The price of freedom is high, as I well know, and it is not only those that go that pay it, but those they leave behind. Still, after all of this, I can say with all my heart that it is something worth fighting for. And when my son comes home, riding into this same station wearing the same uniform and, God willing, the same smile he wore when he left today, I will tell him how proud I am of him.
And I will thank him for having the courage to fight for the peace and freedom we will all enjoy when at last this war is over.