I don’t know your name. Or your age. Or what you look like. You are young, your whole life is ahead of you. Or it would have been ahead of you, but your life was cut short. I don’t know exactly how. A bullet, most likely. Perhaps an explosion. Maybe you were killed instantly. But quite possibly, it took far too long, in pain and agony and mud and squalor, with no decent medical attention to save you or to ease the discomfort. You may have died alone.
You are not famous. Nobody but your friends and family missed you. There was the telegram, the sorrow, the hurt that was repeated day after day in your hometown. So many like you shared your fate, our country was numbed to it. But although time heals our wounds, we do not need to forget them.
And I will always remember you. I will always honour what you did, what you faced, and the finality of your sacrifice.
I am the product of a cross-social marriage, between a Black woman and a White man. My great-grandfather came to this country from Barbados, the descendant of slaves. He worked himself into a position of responsibility and sent his children to school. One of them sat in our parliament and practised law. A Jewish man loaned him the money he used to build two houses for his family.
Today, my colleagues, clients, and the people who use our work are European, African, South-East Asian, Russian, and every other culture or country you can name. They practice every religion you can think of. Alongside each other. We travel across borders, we are children of a small village in today’s world.
It might not have been that way, had you not heeded the call when it came. I have no words to describe how much my life owes to your bitterly short life. I could never repay you for what you have done, for what it means to my family before me and to my children after me.
On this day, more than any other day, you are in my thoughts and my heart.
(These words were originally published on November 11th, 2007. As inadequate as they are for expressing the depth of my feelings, I have never been able to come up with better ones. It is just as well, for they mean even more to me now: I have spent eleven years watching my children grow up in a world utterly unlike the one that threatened my grandparents and their generation. Thank you again.)