Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Remembrance Day when I was growing up meant assemblies in the school Gym with tinny recordings of the Last Post, and a lot of boring speeches. I've always been pro-peace and anti-war, and I saw the ceremonies then as glorifying what had been just-plain-awful, muddy trench battles. As well, I felt that that we, the Western victors, were free to talk about how these wars had been waged to maintain our way of life, but that it would likely be a different kind of ceremony on the other side of the Atlantic.

I left High School and didn't have to go to assemblies anymore. I traveled and for two years Remembrance Day didn't show up on my radar.

Then I went to university. In my first year, two friends asked if I wanted to go with them down to the cenotaph ceremony, in Fredericton. It was kind of like someone asking me to go to church with them - I respected their doing it, but I didn't do it myself. But I said yes.

So we went - on a windy, overcast November day, three young women wearing our poppies, and we stood with the crowd and watched the soldiers march in. We listened to the recital of "In Flanders Fields" and watched the wreaths being lain. We stood and thought our separate thoughts during the two minutes of silence. Afterward, we found a small pub and had pints and "Montreal" style sandwiches, which are made up of three inches of sliced meat and some token bread. It felt very British, very "working-girl", and I liked it.

The next year we went again, going for lunch again afterward. For the next two years there were valid reasons, which I can't remember now, why I didn't attend a ceremony. But then this year came around and I read about the service my village was planning, down at the cenotaph beside the Royal Canadian Legion Hall. I called some neighbours to see if they were going, and if I could go too.

So today found me standing in the crowd, wearing my poppy pin, and bracing myself against the cold wind that came up off the lake. Yes, the wreath-laying took far too long and was far too disorganized. And yes, the Last Post came out of a little stereo that someone had hooked up to a big speaker. But its simple, lonely, repetitive melody, and the crowd standing in silence, gave me goosebumps just like every other time.

I go to the ceremonies now as a grown-up, not a bored and restless schoolgirl. I go to pay my respects for the thousands of soldiers who I will never know, whose life story got caught up in war, who went and fought and saw atrocities I am lucky to know nothing about. I still don't believe war is necessary, I still think there are so many other ways to get things accomplished, and my feelings are still murky when it comes to "fighting for democracy".

But I do think we all need to remember. Remember history in general, remember that the fallen soldiers were people, like you and I, with lives and families and lovers and secrets and favorite foods, remember that war can happen so easily, and yet destroy so much. Remember, and teach children to remember.

On a bumper sticker I saw yesterday:

"War is expensive... Peace is priceless."

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