Here’s the deal with Remembrance Day:
Most of us get it wrong. There is an official version, some of which is certainly true, however, there are aspects that are distorted, or may have once been true, yet are no longer.
The minute of silence at 11.11 11:11 is a ritual. In the course of a ritual, we return to the original time. That’s not quite right either. It’s as if the original time. 11.11.1918 were outside of time, and when we observe our moment of silence, we too are outside of time, no longer in 2014. We share in the moment when peace emerged after all that carnage, and we finally had a moment to reflect on everything that we’d sacrificed.
Then our minute is over, and we’re back to the mundane time of 2014. We’ve been doing this for almost 100 years, and the power of this ritual is undeniable, yet, how much of it stays with us for the remaining 525,959 minutes of the year.
Although this ritual is founded firmly in remembering those who served in the War to End All Wars, Veterans of every subsequent conflict each and every one, whether fallen, wounded, or not, is a reminder that we’ve forgotten.
Canada’s true birthday
Regardless of the festival for confederation in July, in practice, Remembrance Day is Canada’s true birthday. This country joined the war as part of Great Britain, however, during the course of the war, soldiers from Canada proved themselves time and again in the worst possible place we could ever devise, and they earned the respect of the European community – the Germans first coined the term “stormtroopers” to describe the newly encountered Canadian forces.
[George Lucas, please forward all royalties for the use of this word to Veterans of Canada. I’m sure you are welcome for their sacrifice to help you devise a story about heroes.]
This is not a holiday that celebrates war by any means (see: July Fourth), but honours those who fought for those in need, family and allies, regardless of whether they were Canadians or Aboriginal Peoples who took up arms to help Canada to be born on their traditional lands.
[I’ve only just learned that Aboriginal Veterans have their own observation today, November 8th. My apologies for having overlooked that in the course of posting this message. I mean no disrespect, and will ensure that it is well and truly recognized on theAbysmal Calendar, and in my posts about holy days. Miigwech]
We have much to remember, and much to be grateful for.
The poppy – or more importantly, the red.
I find that especially in Ottawa, people without poppies at this time stand out – Newcomers to the city often wear them without knowing the significance, and many Canadians know the origins, but don’t understand the power of the symbol.
The blooming of so much life on fields churned up with the bodies of our kin is a promise – from so much sacrifice comes new life, a life coloured with the blood of the fallen. We all wear this poppy, red as a drop of blood, to indicate that the blood that we wear is the stain of bloodshed over our hearts along with our veterans. We share in the blood shed. This is our role to never forget. To wear our hearts on our sleeves as it were.
The story of the flag is well recorded, however, we still struggle to understand our own symbols. In part, it’s because we live in a culture of diaspora, which gets confusing with so many symbol systems trying to be understood.
The two sides of the flag, once blue, represent the oceans, from sea to sea. They were later changed to red, which may have been done for petty political purposes, but it imbued our national banner with our history. Two oceans, red with blood.
Lest we forget. It’s there at every hockey game, to help us remember that every contest is a metaphor for war, and that we are blessed a thousand times over to not have fought these wars here. Lacrosse traditionally the little brother of war, replaced warfare to some degree. Warriors settle disputes on the field, while competing to please the Creator. If you’re looking for a way to settle disputes once every peaceful solution has been exhausted, there are better ways than scorching the Earth.
Seas of blood – one sea for the Indigenous People of Turtle Island, whose millions died in wars for European Settlers and those who followed to live here, the other sea for all the men and women (lest we forget that it is more than soldiers who die in war) who gave their lives so Canada could assert itself to the international community.
Two seas of blood, lest we forget.
In the centre, the big red leaf. Never mind that the sugar maple only grows in parts of the country, and therefore doesn’t really symbolize all of the territory. It is firmly rooted in the ground, and that is truly what we all have in common, even if the flag might not represent us, it represents the roots we have set here. And the leaf is red, the red of the leaf about to fall. But it hasn’t. Not yet.
If you contemplate the leaf between the oceans of blood, you will notice that it isn’t just a leaf about to fall, but it is a heart (and not just because of my love for maple syrup).
If you want to sum up what is truly Canadian (our culture being so multifaceted, complex, and interdependent), the one thing all of us have in common is heart. Not a heart (although we have that too, and are even willing to give them to those in need), but heart. The quality of standing up when you can’t stand. The leaf that is ready to fall, yet doesn’t. The person who stands up for those who cannot, and stands strong in the face of ineffable horror.
This has always been the quality most admired in athletes. When their acts of willpower, of determination, of heart, teach us that our minds are infinitely more powerful than our bodies, especially when guided by our heart.
Our veterans gave their all to support Canada and Canadians, to help others around the world when they need it. That is their duty. Our duty is to take care of them once they return.
Veterans are having benefits taken away. We’ve forgotten.
More soldiers die by suicide than in combat. We’ve forgotten.
Non-military people who have never served celebrate, cheer, clap, and smile as they send Canadian soldiers to combat on the other side of the world for unclear purposes. We’ve forgotten.
It’s time for us to remember, because we’re seeing what happens when we forget, and despite being reminded every year for nearly a century, we’ve mixed up the messages, and forgotten the unpleasant truth of the country.
We are born of blood on the graves of countless millions.
Let’s do our best not to add one more life to that list. Have we forgotten?
A final note, although the word Canada is fairly innocuous, rhetoric in recent years has tainted our once respected name. This country gained its name Canada with confederation – that’s the fun summer festival.
What was born out of the bloodshed of WW I is something different – Confederation was our birth, and 1867-1914 was our infancy. WW I was our coming of age, as we hadn’t even fully developed our sense of Newfoundland yet. Coming of age rites, when properly done, test heart, endurance, and integrity. We passed this test, and emerged as an adult nation, however, we never received an adult name.
Well, we did. Those of us who remember, who see the red of our symbols as both our blood shed, and our heart, who share in the blood shed in our name, who remember those who have sacrificed lives in our name, we have named ourselves: Canucks.
The origins of this term are apocryphal, which is fine by me. The government of Canada takes care of Canada, and the people who live here take care of the Canuck part.
We don’t have a name for the Tribe of Canucks, so I propose Canuckistan©®™ (just covering all my bases).
This is a new agreement between Canucks, Canadians, all the peoples of Turtle Island, and those of the greater world – let us remember that this is a day to commemmorate sacrifice in the name of peace. And once it’s all said and done, enjoy every peaceful moment we have, because that’s what all the fighting was about.
Let’s try to remember every time Vancouver plays Montreal, Canucks vs Canadiens, for this is the very essence of Canada in peacetime.
Yet, we are not Canada in peacetime.
And let us remember who has honoured who in words and in deeds, and bravely, vocally, and steadfastly oppose those who violate this holy day for nepharious, deceptive, and un-Canuck-like reasons.
Let us show Veterans what we have learned about heart from their example, and remember.
Peaceful tranquility upon you for the rest of your days.