When life is busy, I think back to Belgium. I think of waking up at 7am with tired eyes; the way they were opened so willingly by the sight of the skyline. There was this one long road, a direct path to the sun. The light seemed to take up the whole street. It filtered grey concrete in orange, and reminded me why I wake up early. My eyelashes glowed the colour of my bronzed shoulders. I had never been more disillusioned to the movement of my legs. It seemed I might go on forever.
Here in Belgium I felt both hidden and wildly free. It was a secret place, a secret expanse of land, where we spread out in comfort. The sky appeared bigger, the fields longer. The trees whistled, and we talked in sync with a wispy sky.
I learnt a lot from this composed country. Dedication, selflessness.. even love? The tenacity of a town, of a people, has never been more striking to me than at The Last Post Ceremony. Every night since 1928, the townspeople of Leper meet at 8 o’clock at Menin Gate to commemorate those lost in WW1. Tonight will be no exception. I’ll slap myself for ever questioning a single early rise on April 25th.
And yet still, my admiration aside, I couldn’t do the same. To live in Belgium, to spend my next years commemorating: the sky or the soldiers. No, not yet. Today, my voice would drone on, a thief of the quietness with nothing real to say. I’d fall victim to my philosophy – never to back it up with bona fide support.
You see, the problem with Belgium is not with Belgium. But more with me. I do not know enough – I have not experienced enough – to lay wreaths and bow beneath the sound of trumpets. Not the way I want to. I endeavour to be more than a figure in the ceremony crowd. I want to be someone. To do something. Something that makes my sitting in an arm chair justifiable. I want to enjoy the idyll that is Belgium with more than just appreciation. Instead, a sense of knowing – that somehow, somewhere, I’ve worked to spread the same contentment.
As John Green suggests in The Fault in Our Stars, I agree it’s dangerous to live in aim of being remembered. Admittedly, I don’t believe we were all born to lead a civil rights movement. But “walking lightly”, as Augustus commends of Hazel Grace, has never changed the world. It hasn’t changed a corner of it.
In July, I wrestled in the arms of Belgium, while others lay quite still. The demeanour of the old man in the photo (above) taught me something important. To be able to sit, you must first be able to stand.
And I want to insist – assumedly with the support of the old man – that it’s okay to want to make an impact. We needn’t a lifetime for living quietly, and such use of time is seriously glorified.
What sunday night movie goers seem to have missed is their first english lesson. As much as it pains me to quote Shakespeare, he makes a valid point: “Nothing comes from nothing.” Peace is something we have to work hard for – continually. The soldiers didn’t fight just to ensure the contentment of our finite existence. They fought to establish a foundation to keep fighting. They encouraged that we always resist acceptance of ills in the world. If not for the ones we’ve lost, for the rest to come.
I look forward to sunsets above the plains of Belgium. I look forward to telling my own stories, and to listening to yours. But I’ll wait until I’m 80 to do it. I’ll wait for the day our names fall silent under the sound of the kettle boiling. We won’t need to be remembered. We’ll look out into that Belgium sun – the one that first made us run – and man, we’ll remember this place. We’ll remember the damn good things we did, how we gave what we had, and who we were. Glasses of champagne straight to our heads, we’ll wonder where the time went. Together, we’ll cheers to the way we spent it.