Yet the best memory of this trip is something more reverent than fun. Stationed on the NW end of the famed Tower Bridge stands the Tower of London, which, as I was informed by a fellow onlooker from London, is often considered a favorite landmark of the locals. The tower itself was constructed by the order of Duke William of Normandy after his invasion of England in 1066, and is one of the oldest landmarks in the city. But what drew thousands upon thousands of onlookers on this particular day wasn't simply the tower, but rather a memorial to commemorate the centenary of England and her colony's entrance into the First World War in 1914.
On my journey back to Germany from England, a trip that seemed far too much of a parallel with a time 100 years gone by, I decided to follow through on my video commitment for the month of November: write more. There were so many thoughts pumping through my head, and I am almost remiss to say that my natural inclination was to let them slip right by into my ever-growing “I’ll get around to it later pile”. Then I remembered the wise words of Samuel Johnson, who put my dilemma into a perfect phrasing:
“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”
I immediately picked up my pen and tried to filter the wave as best as I could. The piece below is what found its way onto the paper.
Planes Used to Fly
Not so long ago planes touched these puffs for a different reason. These massive wings carry me to and fro for friends, laughs, drinks, fun and a safe return home. Smaller wings once brought much larger change to this land, warping so starkly the atmosphere in which I now live, which is an atmosphere I admittedly take for granted. Realizing that those poppies are red for a hot reason hits me like 1/1000 of a bullet. Then I force into mind that nearly 900,000 soldiers are represented by these blooms, each one signaling where a life once stood, and it is likely that most felt at least 1000/1000 of a bullet.
That one was a father, this one a brother…there, a cousin…here, the would-be grandfather of a great actress. Or was she going to be a poet? Or perhaps she would have been an astronaut? It would seem as if we will never know. But as I stare out at this sea of beautiful suffering I can’t help but to feel how moved I am by the great characters she portrayed…or was it the wonderful images her words painted that shakes me? Thoughts of her untaken steps across the dimpled, weightless surface of the moon send a gravity throughout my being. That same gravity helps pull a tear from my eye and down my wind-blushed cheek.
What a wonderful thought to have. Some will gasp at that line. Please, allow me to explain. Clearly the cause for these blooming buds is tragedy, sadness and death. People perished in agony, you say, asking how I can be happy. As strange as it may sound, I am happy to have felt this sadness; I am thankful for the suffering they endured in the name of freedom and in the name of ending hatred (or at least slowing it for a time). Just as one doesn’t appreciate syrup until they’ve sipped vinegar, I’m standing here, full of smiles and joy, and now I feel a gratitude that I’m able to think in such positive, light ways.
When I push my mental form as close to those bunkers and fields and cockpits as I dare – which is admittedly nowhere near close enough to smell their pain – my mind’s lips are pursed from the sour contrast of my physical state. This reality is too sad to ever comprehend, but I feel indebted that this reality is in fact not my own. No, the reality in which I’m currently enveloped was paid for with the warm crimson now symbolized by this battlefield of blooms. I will walk away from this view a changed man, not necessarily a better man, perhaps a slightly more reality-filled man, but a changed man. And those brave souls will not have been taken in vein, nor will I have attended this great display in it.
Some of you BIG T gurus might not be so impressed. Whatever, the point of No-Shave November - or at least the point I have to harp on since I can't actually grow a legit beard - is to increase the awareness of men's health issues around the world. So to that I say make sure that you're using your God-given gift of BIG T for increasing awareness, and not just for ruffing up your girlfriend's kiss attempts.