I remember growing up with the occasional Remembrance Day assembly in class, depending if the 11th fell upon a school day or weekend there was a great variety in the level of participation required of us. The day would usually go something like this:
We would all shuffle into the gymnasium with our bright red (and green…at the time) poppies stabbed into our shirts and someone would fire-up the coal-electric overhead projector with a sheet containing the lyrics to “Flanders Fields” (I swear every Canadian child has heard of John McCrae) and as one semi-mumbling blob, would recite the words, then try our best not to incur the wrath of our teachers by standing still and silent for a minute once the 11th occurred.
It would be silly to assume we didn’t understand the gravitas of the day, but it always bugged me that, for the most part, it was more about poppies and poems, silence and sombreness, reciting and reading…but very few of us had anything to remember.
These were the happy, naive days, where we learned about the World Wars, and all the little skirmishes like Korea, Vietnam, and South Africa were just blips in an otherwise peaceful world. My only real contact with War was my grandfather, who served all over the world in coalition forces, but I had not yet gotten to that layer of his onion, deciding I liked the old-goat-goofball the best, and he was happy to deliver.
No; Remembrance Day was a day for silence. Silent thanking of silent people who you had never heard speak. Silent understanding, silent thinking. And when we were told we must remember…lest we forget…well, we had silent, sombre nods for all of that too. At least the silence was better than droning on about poppies.
But as reality shines light against the cheesecloth curtain of childhood, as it always does, you start to see the wars aren’t over, and a byproduct of technology and education is that the world isn’t as big as it once was…the wars are closer to your doorstep than ever. Iraq, Iran, Syria…Columbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Gaza… suddenly the world is full of hotspots and instead of Grandpas telling old war stories in front of Hockey Night in Canada, it was Cousins and Uncles and Fathers and Older Brothers going to war.
Then, younger brothers. Younger sisters. Younger cousins.
It’s incredible how quickly you start listening then. Past the monotone. Even in the silence. The stoic propaganda of No News is Good News. The Say Nothing journalism that gave you a break from the real terrifying moments where you could see the tracer rounds in the night just a few rooftops away and the CNN or BBC or whoever-initials-were-brave-enough’s reporter was doing their best not to shit themselves on live international satellite broadcast.
But my generation…the one who grew up with the drone of Flanders Fields…is now the one teaching the next generation of kids. I often wondered if they would receive the same monotone treatment of it all.
So far, it seems like a resounding: “No.”
My son, who is in grade 1, has very little concept of the Great War, or WWII, or anything before or after. His primary concerns are behaving well enough to extract Netflix time out of his parents and bad (REALLY bad) knock-knock jokes that result in tickles. But even so, when he was presented with the looming 11th, he understood in a way that I never did…in a way that I perhaps didn’t care to worry about…in a way that proves just how simple and right and honest the spirit of the day really is.
He knows it’s to remember the people who have died or gotten hurt to make this world safe.
It just makes sense to him. As it does to me now. As I pray it does to everyone.
Remembrance Day is there to undo our tendency to look back into the past with rose-tinted-binoculars. To see cold dates and numbers instead of the annihilation of millions of lives over dozens of years. It is the ultimate statement…when observed correctly…that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, and that we are not interested in any of that shit.
It is not poppies and poems and shuffling past monuments and statues, pretending to carry a fraction of the personal horror behind your stony face that the old soldier next to you has as he remembers being a kid thrown into hell. It is about simple human dignity: understanding that some things are worth fighting, dying and killing for – but also the price extracted for doing so to be truly universal and ultimate.
For some who rushed to the battles of old, the cost was their lives and the families left behind who were missing a part of their whole. Others suffered the wounds and missing parts and sicknesses of battle. Still others, as we are constantly learning, carry the suffering in less physical ways…but always…the price was paid. Maybe it was simply being away from home, from sanity, from family… or maybe it was the horror of being the sole witness to the stories and battles of others. But this much is certain: There are no tiers to remember…no layers of duty…no lesser and greater sacrifices in the name of your country and your world. There are no innocents behind the lines, living in a peaceful, oblivious utopia anymore.
As sure as I am about anything in this world, I know the we all pay the price for war. For terror. For righteous indignation and petty anger. For war profiteers and careless war-hawk leaders. And God Damn anyone who eagerly takes that ultimate payment willingly given by those standing up because they believed it was the right thing to do. Volunteered…or volentold…at a certain point, not even that matters.
We are not remembering one war, or one battle, or a handful of dusty pages in a text book. No. Today is for remembering the true cost we all have to pay. The heavy weight of service and duty; the mountain of privilege carried by anyone who can sleep in peace; those who killed, were killed, or witnessed the killing or worse.
We remember those who lived as well, but as shattered versions of themselves in the mind or flesh. Those who continue to seek their own way out instead of the nightmares. We remember the monumental, human-consuming task that is Peacekeeping, and supporting the Rule of Law.
Lest we forget? It’s no longer in monotone. No. It’s more like a bell tolling, and truly, if I may be so bold as to borrow from another poem – I already know it tolls for us all. For you. For me. For this entire bloody world.
Thanks to a little boy who asks me to tuck him in every night, who loves hugs, and truly understands that there is death and war in the world…It’s harder than ever to forget.
=- Studio Shinnyo 2015. Khattam-Shud, EOF.Posted under Manifestoes