Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada, and I did what I have done every year I've been in Halifax on November 11.  I got up early (for a day off work), got dressed, made sure that my poppy was on my coat, and headed off to the Grand Parade Square downtown.  It was gratifying to see so very many people heading in the same direction as I was going - they move differently on Remembrance Day than on ordinary days.  There is a different purpose to the walk, and you can see it.  You can almost feel it in the air.

There have been many veterans in my family - some are (or were) veterans of war, while others have lives that involved military service.  Both my parents, now deceased, were veterans of WW II, so Remembrance Day was taken pretty seriously in our house.  When we were children, it was a cool thing in many ways, because our parents marched with other Legionnaires and past service members in the parade that went from our local Legion club to the Cenotaph.  We didn't think so much then about what it was we were experiencing, and yet, we knew that it was about remembrance.

Today, as I stood there, weeping my way through "Abide With Me," wondering why more people weren't singing, I realised that this month will be the 20th anniversary of my father's death.  That means that if he were still alive, he would've been 92 years old at this Remembrance Day service.  He would've been one of the oldest surviving veterans - their numbers get smaller and smaller every year.  My mother, had she not died in 2003, would have been 88 years old.  There are people at my synagogue who are about the ages of my parents.  We tend to revere them - they've generally been through more, experienced more, than we are ever likely to know.  And I realised today that while I do respect them, of course, what I feel for them is more like the love I can no longer share with my own parents.  These are who my parents might have been, after all.

November is a tough month.  My daughter and I have said - only half-jokingly - for years now that we ought to just skip November.  It is a month of so very much remembrance that hearts feel bruised when it finally draws to a close, just in time to take a breath and recognise that holidays are about again, and for me and my siblings to remember (as if we could forget) that we have no parents with whom to share the holidays.  November is a month of remembrance, and hurried phone calls, and death, and funerals.  But I know that even if I could skip it, I really wouldn't. 

I have so much more to remember now - not just veterans of earlier wars, but veterans of current wars.  Not just my parents, but friends' parents who have died.  Friends and family who are currently serving in the military, whether they are in combat theatre or not, are much on my mind, and I pray that we'll never have to find out the hard way what war really feels like.  I remember and pray for the safety of the almost-adult and adult children of my friends who have chosen military service.

Remembering is somewhat a sacred obligation to me.  I could no more skip Remembrance Day than I could pluck out my own eyes.  I remember because I love and have loved, and because there are still soldiers and sailors and air force personnel who are injured or who die on foreign soil, working to promote the democratic ideals that I take for granted.

There have been people around - peace activists, I imagine - giving away white poppies as a counter to the red ones sold on behalf of the Royal Canadian Legion.  Their feeling is that red poppies glorify war, and I will never understand this.  If they believe that, then they've missed the point altogether.  I'm sharing Halifax editorial cartoonist Mike De Adder's contribution to Remembrance Day 2010, because I believe he's got it just about right.

And today, just like every Remembrance Day in my life, I have marked the day with prayer and silence.  And at the going down of the sun, I have remembered.

Seymour & Jesse Skinner, home for a visit from the war... Jesse was my wonderful father.

Michael De Adder - November 10, 2010