I had some flexibility in my schedule after running a few errands on a recent weekday afternoon, so I decided to spend a little time in a place that I visit all too infrequently.
Of course, it wasn’t my first opportunity to visit Port Hawkesbury’s Veterans’ Memorial Park. But it was a rare moment to see the place outside of a Remembrance Day ceremony or similar activity, and this was the first time I wasn’t there in an official journalism capacity.
Even though it was 3:30 p.m. and activity was swirling around Port Hawkesbury – as evidenced by the steady stream of traffic along Reeves Street – I felt a wave of peace wash over me as I sat down on one of the many sturdy benches available to the park’s visitors.
That was partly because I was alone, and remained alone for the entire 10 minutes of my visit. But I also felt an air of protection around me, as if all the names listed on the official Port Hawkesbury cenotaph and the interpretive panels erected as part of the park’s original design had put their lives on the line, many of them sacrificing their lives in the process, so that I could show up here on a Thursday afternoon and calmly eat a cookie and sip an iced cappucino without fear for my security or that of my family, friends or neighbours.
Of course, that’s not true. Or is it?
The freedom that I experienced on that day in Veterans’ Memorial Park – and that we experience, and take for granted, every day in our part of the world – is largely due to the men and women memorialized at this often-ignored public gathering space.
There are many others responsible for that freedom, and they, too, often pay the ultimate price for our security.
Just over three years ago, the people of Port Hawkesbury gathered at this park for a twilight vigil honouring three members of the Codiac RCMP who were senselessly slaughtered in the line of duty during a single, horrible night in Moncton. The solidarity between our soldiers – past and present – and our police officers proved to be a powerful reminder of those who dedicate their lives to what the rest of us too often dismiss as a birthright: The deceptively-simple, anything-but-basic concept of peace.
It almost feels wrong for me to have a quiet moment in the shadow of monuments depicting every branch of the military when violence and tragedy continue to plague so many parts of our world. Thousands of American soldiers were dispatched to the regions recently ravaged by September’s unrelenting rampage of hurricanes, reminding us all that North America’s men and women in uniform are needed in what we consider “peacetime” as well as in more clearly-defined times of warfare.
Similarly, it was surreal to realize that I was experiencing this peaceful moment at a time when the leaders of two of the world’s most well-stocked nuclear powers are engaging in a war of words better suited to a junior-elementary schoolyard, with one introducing most of the planet to the word “dotard” and the other threatening to “destroy” North Korea if the United States is even remotely targeted.
The Angry-Orange-In-Chief even went a step further in trivializing the nuclear-annihilation-in-the-making last week, childishly referring to his fellow egomaniac as “Rocket Man” – during a speech to the United Nations, no less – and reducing international diplomacy to a Twitter squabble (again) with the use of the phrase “#NoKo” to describe the Asian nation in question.
It’s tempting to look at this sad state of affairs and charge that the thousands of names engraved on the panels and cenotaph at Veterans’ Memorial Park died in vain.
No, they didn’t.
Many of us may not like the sorry state of leadership currently governing the United States – or, for that matter, Canada, Nova Scotia, or parts of Nova Scotia. But the right to choose our leaders remains intact because of the sacrifices our soldiers have made, and continue to make to this day.
And my right to safely visit Veterans’ Memorial Park again a few hours after my initial visit – and then do something as frivolous as cross Reeves Street and get a Blizzard and a sundae at the local Dairy Queen – is also intact because of the combined efforts of our soldiers and our police officers.
We can’t ever take this peace for granted. So do yourself a favour and visit this park – or your own local cenotaph – sometime soon, thank those that maintain these facilities, and honour the names who dedicated their lives to the security we so infrequently celebrate today.