In the silence around the cenotaph, a rooster began to crow. I heard it across the river, and knew its throaty notes—our rooster. At first I felt mild embarrassment that our creatures could not keep silent for these two minutes, with a whole community standing by to pay their respect to the dead. It crowed once, twice. A few people raised their eyebrows in the direction of the noise. A third time. I kept my eyes on the damp grass at my feet.
And then I remembered the silence of a long-ago midnight fire, the dawn about to break, and a man broken in despair that he had denied his master and friend three times. The cry rang again across the valley, unmistakable in the quiet morning air.
“A rooster crowing…” I heard the whisper of a woman behind me, her voice gravelly with age. What omen did she hear in the rooster’s call?
In our gathered stillness the thought echoed through my mind—How do we deny God even now? How have we shunned the presence of Love and Mercy in the world? In what ways do we keep turning our backs on the only hope for humanity, refusing to walk the difficult path of forgiveness and peace?
The piper began his mournful tune, a lament that filled our ears, wringing our hearts with the grief that rolls on, age after age.
How can anyone find the strength to do this, when wars continue to rage and children continue to cry?
After the outdoor service, kids in bright coloured coats rushed up to the cenotaph to place their poppies there with the wreaths, bedding the bare November ground in a velvet garden of red. And then they talked to their neighbours, and played with a dog, and danced along the edge of the riverbank.
Next to the roosters, it is the children here who know the least about war, and thank God for that.
I don’t have the answers to a world on fire. The rooster’s crow makes me uncomfortable, because if I examine the silence of my own heart, I see there all the ways it tends to twist away from love and mercy. God help me. God help me follow the Man who shows a better way. God help us all.
As the crowd dispersed it began to rain, and my seven year old daughter slipped a cold hand in mine. In her other hand she held the medals of her great grandmother, a WWII radio operator in the RAF. “Can we go home now?” she asked. I nodded and we crossed the street together, her little arm pulling me across the wet pavement and around people dashing for their cars. And I followed her, threading my way between the rooster’s crows and the laughter of children.
~ Lindsey Gallant
Image: Peter McDougall piping the lament, photo by Donald Matheson