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Lions Roar : September 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2008 33 IT WAS A WARM DAY IN MAY in the small town in France where I live part of each year and I was in the grocery, waiting to pay for a bottle of cold Orangina. But I left the shop when I sud- denly heard the sound of recorded martial music start up in the square outside. It wasn’t unusual for trucks to ride through town announcing their presence with march music and then advertis- ing a circus or a fireworks display. I realized this wasn’t what was happening now, however, when I saw that a parade of locals was lining up behind the truck and I remembered that it was Armi- stice Day, a day for honoring veterans of both World War I and World War II. I saw my friend Michel, the town’s vice-mayor, near the front of the parade, just behind the two flag bearers carrying the French flag and the regional flag and the three children who looked like they were wearing “Sunday-best” clothes. Behind Michel were perhaps twenty adults also dressed quite formally. The truck be- gan to move, circling the square, and the small parade followed behind. Last in line was an elderly couple, a man and a woman, holding hands. I ducked back into the grocery to pay for my Orangina and then hurried back out to follow the parade. It had turned down one of the many small streets that converged onto the square, and I wasn’t sure where it was. I heard the music from the truck so I followed the sound, hoping to overtake the group. I made several wrong turns, and the people I stopped to ask if they’d seen the parade shrugged and pointed and said things like, “I think maybe that way,” but no one seemed very interested. Finally, I turned a corner and saw the group rounding a bend about a hundred yards ahead of me. We were outside of the cen- ter of town by then, and I realized that the road they were taking was the one that leads to the cemetery. I could see the elderly couple still walking at the rear of the group, still holding hands. Although I’d been rushing and meant to catch them, I stopped. I didn’t want to go further. I felt bewildered by sadness. I imagined the hundreds of other little groups that were at that very moment all over France, indeed all over Europe, walking to cemeteries that day. I remembered all of the main squares of tiny villages that I’d seen with monuments listing names under the title “Heroes of This Town Who Died Defending Their Coun- try.” These days, since the opening of the borders of countries in the European Union, people travel freely and establish homes in neighboring countries. I often hear French and Spanish and German spoken in the local restaurants. I imagine the speakers to be the great-grandchildren of the soldiers who died defending their countries against each other. I wanted to describe the parade to the cemetery for this essay because it touched me so much. I was moved that a few people, without fanfare and without onlookers, wanted to dress up and formally celebrate the lives and deaths of people from their town. Even if everything is impermanent—perhaps especially SYLVIA BOORSTEIN’S new book is Happiness Is an Inside Job. No More Watching a small-town parade honoring the dead of wars past, SYLVIA BOORSTEIN finds hope that our world of interconnection may inspire us, like the ancient Buddhist king Ashoka, to renounce war and its suffering. ILLUSTRATIONBYMISSYCHIMOVITZ SEPT 18-39.indd 33 SEPT 18-39.indd 33 7/3/08 1:30:16 PM 7/3/08 1:30:16 PM