We are encouraged to remember on this special day – November 11, Remembrance Day.
But what if we have no baseline upon which to build a remembrance? What if we have never been taught or shown the relevance or significance of this day or even how it can and should touch each and everyone of us like no other day in the year? How can we ask the world, our town, the square upon which we stand, or those in the grocery store line-up to go silent for 2 minutes at 11am on November 11 when many have no concept of the meaning of this event?
The Canadian Legion has a tag line for this day that says “Lest we forget”. Forget what? In order to go there, to have something that we can dearly hold on to and must not forget however, we need to create a world of meaning and a world from which remembrance can be built and sustained. Only then we can keep alive the flame of remembrance and not forget the sacrifice of men and women who stepped out to help keep alive the idea and the belief we have in this special country of ours.
What is this day and this time? What does it mean beyond the dead and long forgotten soldiers of wars past? Is there something more? Is this day about us as Canadians and what we have done in the past and continue to do to preserve what we care about and believe in?
Yes there are other people and countries who take time on this day to commemorate events from long ago. But in Canada, our day is about Canadians; men and women who willingly stepped out of their daily lives to go a great distance away from their families and step into great and challenging circumstances that forever changed their lives and the lives of those left behind at home. Many did not return home and many more returned home forever damaged in spirit and body. What is there to remember? Was this not long ago? Is this just history?
Oh course it is – history was yesterday and much of it is painful and we just want to move on and return to the life of “before” and the last thing Dad or Grandpa wants to hear is “Were you in the war? – Did you kill someone? – What happened to your friends?” We must find a way to respectfully understand, and honour, and appreciate, and learn, and keep alive the spirit of those who willingly stepped up and made a difference. We must learn first, and then maybe we can remember, and then share, and teach, and help to make November 11 a living memorial for us all.
I have never been to war, I have never fired a gun at another person or dropped a bomb on a city or had to run and duck for cover because bombs were being fired at me. My father and my grandfather, on the other hand were in these circumstances and their lives were changed forever because of their wars. They lost friends and family. They came home scarred and unable to talk of their experiences. Sadly I have a dear friend a year or 2 older than I who found himself in a war not that many years ago and I can only guess at the horrors he witnessed and was helpless to prevent.
Yes there are wars and horrors happening right now in too many places around the world but this must never stop us from taking 2 minutes, one day a year at 11 am on November 11 to think about those men and women who helped to shape our country by willingly going away to places and events that most of us cannot imagine. We are who we are today because of these people (family, friends, and many others) and the various events in our history that have shaped what we have today. We owe it to our fellow Canadians current and past to learn and to never forget and to take 2 minutes once a year to show our respect for their actions, their efforts and their lives.
The following was written in the Manchester Guardian on 12 November 1919.
Know your history – recognize the dates – read it and just imagine how terribly painful yet powerful this memorial event must have been.
The First Two Minute Silence in London (11 November 1919)
The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect.
The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition.
Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of ‘attention’. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still … The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain … And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.