Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ANZAC Day

I don't know how to start telling about the dawn service this morning. We walked because it was too early for buses, and arrived in plenty of time but still had to get a place on the hill because the area around the cenotaph was full, and although that made me happy, I became less so as it became clearer that lots of people were there for I don't know what - to borrow a feeling, I guessed, although I freely admitted to being very, very grumpy (I don't like early mornings). I tried to ignore them. A man walked by in the darkness holding two big flags over his shoulders, NZ's and Australia's, and the sight of him made me cry. Then the service began, and the speaker said NZ is the first place in the world to celebrate ANZAC day, and that made me laugh. There were even fewer veterans, and the people holding photos of their fathers were older. Less people sang; many of us didn't know the words to anything except our anthem (although we piped in on the line 'Advance Australia fair'). Afterward, I saw a man in a puffa jacket acknowledge another man, in uniform, and it made me feel happy.

For the first time it struck to me that a big part of people's participation in ANZAC day isn't really about ANZAC day at all; it's about having a national day that everyone can be part of. For some people, that day should be Waitangi day, but I still don't know how I feel about it, or whether I want to celebrate it; I feel a bit like it was the start of yet another chapter of Maori being betrayed and treated badly, and there is nothing to celebrate in that. Lots of us are relatively recent immigrants, and some just don't understand the significance of ANZAC day except in that it is something everyone respects - everyone.

I don't have any family who fought in WWI, or any war, for that matter. When I imagine what it must have been like, I think about the men I love, and how it would feel for them, and for us left behind, if we had been alive during the war. I look at the veterans, and think about what they went through, and what life might have been like when they came home, and what it's like now. The imaginings make me feel a bit removed from the day, and I start to wonder if I'm borrowing a feeling, before I allow that imagining is a way of remembering. But today, as the sun came up, I looked out over Auckland and thought how much I love this place, and how everyone there was bound by that feeling, and that whatever we were thinking about, essentially that was what our presence meant. New Zealand frustrates me, and sometimes breaks my heart, but I love it, and if I thought the way we live was threatened, I would be moved to action. ANZAC day is about remembrance, and peace, but it's also about having things that are precious to you, and being somewhere you have chosen to be.

I think lots of us who live here forget that every day we are here is a choice. Most of us could leave at any time, but we don't, and it's because something keeps us here. And I think we sometimes get stuck in our pretence that Australia is nothing but the devil we know. Today, I remember that Australia is the country I want to win when NZ or a small underdog nation can't, and where lots of people I love choose to live. And I remember that not travelling is a choice; it's not that I don't want to see other places, or that I just haven't gone. I have stayed. I chose to stay.

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