I haven’t always taken the time to remember. Some years, the moment passed, and I, unawares, continued on with the minutia of my life. There may have been a time or two when I couldn’t actually stop, and ponder, and observe. As I get older, I recognize that many of those failures to give tribute were born out of a life full of shallow and sometimes frivolous goals and ideas and occupations.
As I get older, I make a better effort to keep the day on my mental schedule, and think about it as it approaches.
I remember that there was a war that began a century ago this year, and ended four years later with a cease fire that was enacted in the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, in the eleventh month. In Canada, this day of which I speak, November 11, is known as Remembrance Day.
We live in a free and prosperous nation, one in which peace prevails, and the rule of law is embraced; one in which individual citizens have the right and the privilege and the responsibility to vote, to have their say in the laws and the rules which guide us all. That freedom and that rule of law and that peace were all bought and paid for by the blood of our nation’s sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers.
We owe a debt to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom. That debt is only in part a debt of respect and remembrance. It is also a debt of determination: to hold fast to those freedoms they purchased for us at so high a price, and to guard them, ceaselessly. It is a debt best expressed in the great optimism uttered in the aftermath of the Great War: never again.
Watching the camera pan the crowds at our National War Memorial ceremony of remembrance yesterday, the faces of the elderly, uniformed, beribboned, and somber made me wonder. In eyes turned translucent with age, I saw true remembrance: as the bugler played The Last Post; as the moment of silence descended; as the cannons fired on interval; as the Governor-General spoke of the purpose behind our having these memorials erected in the center of out towns, great and small, across the nation; as Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, read a message from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada.
I saw remembered camaraderie, and remembered pain. I saw remembered struggle and remembered victory. I saw the understanding that they had lived on, while those with whom they shared that camaraderie, and terrible violence of conflict, had not.
War has been a part of the human landscape since the first caveman picked up a club. Violence exists in our society because it exists in our DNA. On Remembrance Day, we recognize this quality in ourselves, and rededicate ourselves to doing all we can to honor their sacrifice and to keep the peace. And sometimes keeping the peace means actions taken to stop aggressors and oppressors and those who would destroy us in the name of dogma.
As dichotomous as it sounds, sometimes keeping the peace means going to war.
We know this and we acknowledge this, and we promise to those who’ve gone before us, and to those who shall come after us, that we will not take these decisions, or their sacrifices, lightly.
And we vow, once more, that we shall never forget.