Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reflection on Remembrance

I had the amazing opportunity on Sunday to take a break from my mad NaNo writing-fest and attend a Remembrance Day ceremony with my daughter. She's an Army cadet (much to the chagrin of her Air-Force father) and her unit was marching in support of their sponsor, a local Legion.

Veterans, Legion Members and Cadets stand at attention.
It was a bizarre little ceremony, as the memorial gates they were marching to are located on a main street in a busy city. There was a police escort, several bicycle cops and two police cars with flashing lights. The cadets (age 12-18) looked sharp, marched well, and came to a halt in the middle of the intersection, the police officers directing traffic around them and the few war vets healthy enough to stand with them. In spite of the setting, and the low attendance, the Legion members led us through the National Anthem and played (via recording) the Last Post. We had a moment of silence. Like every ceremony of this nature, I struggled with the tears that inevitably well up when I think of the lives lost. Perhaps it's survivors guilt, perhaps it's the memory of so many friends and neighbours who have lost their lives in the service of our country, or perhaps it's fear that some day I could hear that bugle call someone I love dearly home. Whatever the cause, the moment of silence, to me, is sacred. And on that busy street with police officers directing traffic Sunday morning, it was no different.

As the moment of silence ended, I was shocked to hear a middle-aged woman start to yell. "You ruined the last post! You ruined the moment of silence! You should be ashamed!" she screamed at a poor unsuspecting police officer just behind my daughter. I'm sure I wasn't the only one confused. My poor daughter, standing there protected by the police officer helping the traffic through (which, by the way, was now backed up at least 6 blocks in each direction), looked like she was about to bolt.

I think (but I'm not sure) that this woman was mad at the police officer for letting the traffic through during the moment of silence. In her ignorance though, she not only insulted someone who was bravely doing his job, but those in front of her, who were doing what was important...remembering. I can't tell you how furious I was at this loud, angry woman who for some reason thought she had the duty to blast someone for ruining a ceremony that she herself was ruining. I wanted to run into the street and scream at her. Had she worn a uniform for her country? Did she watch the father of her children get on a plane for a 6 month tour in the desert? Had she held her son as he cried silently for the father he knows is in danger? Had she seen the rows, upon rows of gravestones in a lonely French field? Had she sat up late at night waiting for her husband to come home from a rescue mission in the middle of a blinding storm?

I have.

And as much as I wanted to give this sad woman a piece of my mind, I didn't. The men and women who die every day so that we can stand and pray freely in a city street deserve better than that.

To his credit, the police officer listened to her quietly, attempted to placate her, and continued doing his job. The cadets, legion members and veterans ignored her. The ceremony finished and we walked away. I'm sure there are better ways to hold a ceremony than with a few straggly spectators in the middle of a busy street. But our discomfort was minimal. The act of remembrance is what counts. 

To the men and women who have died so that I can sit here, writing my unedited thoughts...thank you.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon

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