remembering loved ones


Until 9/11 the day known as Veteran’s Day in the United States, where I was born and raised, was just a day. Nothing particularly elaborate or widespread.

You knew it was a federal holiday by the absence of mail and the dutiful coverage by the media of ceremonies here and there.

Politicians, of course, pandered.

But really, it was not a big deal.

The attack on the Twin Towers in NYC changed that a little bit but it was still hit and miss regardless of the impression given by the media down there.

When I came to Canada, I discovered the true origins of this day*, and the fact that in some countries around the world – Canada being one of them – Remembrance Day’s meaning is kinda like the Grinch’s observation about Christmas – “maybe, perhaps, means a little bit more”.

Life doesn’t come to a complete stop for Remembrance Day in Canada. In fact, it’s not even a statutory federal holiday. But it’s important.

Not because – as some people (politicians especially) would like us to believe – the fallen soldiers of our too numerous wars died defending “freedom”.

They didn’t.

Soldiers die because politicians fail.

They fail to negotiate, compromise and find equitable resolutions to vexing problems. They fail to think in terms of years and decades out as opposed to between now and the next election. They fail to understand that war’s human cost is seldom worth whatever short-term solution was gained. And finally, they fail to do what they were actually elected to do, safe-guard our freedoms themselves through their words and deeds.

Every time a soldier dies, somewhere a politician’s karma gets deservedly more muddy.

Remembrance Day is important because we remember how awful war is by recalling the bright futures that never were. The young men and women who didn’t come home to family and friends. The waste. The horror. The destruction. The fact that freedom wasn’t democratically defended and promoted but was used like a blunt instrument on the landscape, lives, hopes and dreams of people we don’t know. Whose strangeness to us made it “okay” to destroy their homes and kill their children.

And we should remember these things. It’s a painful and humbling reminder that we haven’t got it all figured out. That we are works in progress, and at times, our progress hasn’t been for the greater good but for greed, power and the right of the conqueror to force his will on the unwilling.

My father and my uncles fought in World War II and in Korea. It changed them, or so I am told. I only knew the men forged by war not the men they were prior to war. I recognize what a great loss that was to me and for them.

I wear my poppy in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day like many, many others. I observe the day as do most of the people I know.

But I don’t think the day was ever meant to be about honouring as much as it was meant to be about remembering what was lost. Who was lost. And why we shouldn’t let war be the habit it has become.

 

*It’s amazing what you can learn about history when you leave the United States, where history is told in a way that is good for Americans and shorter on fact than a Texas social studies curriculum guide.


Dandelions and Forget-Me-Nots In a sycamore co...

Dandelions/Forget-Me-Nots (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roger Ebert blogged recently about a streak of loses among his friends and relatives that got him thinking about how and why we remember those who have died. In his musings, he touched on something that rang true for me:

Early one morning, unable to sleep, I roamed my memories of them. Of an endless series of dinners, and brunches, and poker games, and jokes, and gossip. On and on, year after year. I remember them. They exist in my mind–in countless minds. But in a century the human race will have forgotten them, and me as well. Nobody will be able to say how we sounded when we spoke. If they tell our old jokes, they won’t know whose they were. ┬áThat is what death means. We exist in the minds of other people, in thousands of memory clusters, and one by one those clusters fade and disappear.

The idea that what constitutes are immortality is as mortal as we are makes a lot of sense. It explains in a small way our fear of dying and our fear of letting go of those who have died. When we can no longer bring them to life in our mind’s eye as clearly as our home movies on the flat screen, they are truly gone. because even the photos and audio-visual facsimiles will eventually belong to those who never knew them in the flesh and to whom they are nothing more than curiosities from someone else’s past.

One of the comments on the Ebert’s post had this to add:

Many Native American peoples had two words to describe the dead. One word for those who had died- but still had someone living who remembered them, and another word for those who have died and no living person was left who remembered them.

Implication being that there is no immortality on this plane anyway.