Today was, as many of us have put it, « a rollercoaster of emotions. » I can crudely summarize my day into four major experiences.
Loralea shared Lawrence Wark with us today, her great uncle who had been killed in the Great War. She played a hymn at the end that held a significant place in the memory of him. The hymn was titled Blessed Assurance. Hearing the tune and lyrics hit home in a way I had not felt before. I have been affected by the graves and cemeteries we visited before but not like this. I began walking up and down the rows reading the inscriptions on the bottoms of the headstones. I stared picking out and looking for specific inlays. « Thy will be done. » « God hath taken him. » « He is in the arms of Jesus. » I saw them one after another; they began to go by in a blur yet I saw each individual one. Tears began streaming down my face. I didn’t know why. I was mournful for the dead, for the ones God had taken before they had a chance to grow old. I should have been happy, I believed they now sat with God. Maybe I was sad for those who didn’t or don’t believe that their loved ones resided in heaven, sad for their suffering. Maybe I was sad that God could take those away from their families. Maybe I felt confusion about what I was feeling. What I do know is that I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion. This was just the start of my day.
My day brightened as we moved on to the Commonwealth War Graves Commision. These people had the responsibility of looking after all the Commonwealth graves and cemeteries. They were responsible for maitenance of cemeteries including lawn, gardens, repair or replacement of headstones, Crosses of Sacrifice, Stones of Rememberance, gates, doors, grates, registry compartments, etc. It gave me a comforting feeling that everything was being done to ensure that the dead were being properly looked after and respected like they should be. We saw all the effort, countless hours, and money that went in to the process. How much time they spent to make sure eveything was not only kept in excellent condition but also made to look aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
After, we went to the tunnels at Maison Blanche. Although it was extremely dark down there it was one of our brightest experiences of what the war was. This was where the young soldiers had lived for long periods of time. We saw the etchings in the walls of chalk made by the Canadian soldiers who had been there. There was everything from regiment badges to memorials to fallen comrades. It showed the soldiers living down there as real people.
Finally, the biggest part of my day was visiting the grave of my soldier, Charles Welsh. Reading the story of Charles Welsh inspired me to choose him and write to him and tell others about him, but I never realized how much he and his story meant to me until I shared it with everyone. All the emotions of grief, anger, happiness, regret, fear, and thankfulness washed over me in an instant. Seeing the thousands of graves came down to the spot where this one man lay buried. To explain exactly what I felt in the time I read the biography and tribute and letter would be impossible. In the end, I felt overwhelming joy welling inside me. I feel fully what it meant for them to give their lives for us so that I could gain this experience with a new family that I know and love.