Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on November 5, 2018.
My grandfather was a WWII veteran. He died when I was nine, and so did the stories that he might have been inclined to share. I have old photos of him in uniform, and I know a few of the jolly stories – including how he courted my grandmother – family folklore that made us kids giggle. But I do not know the anguish, the pain, the horror he experienced as a WWII soldier.
Hence the silence that was draped all over my thoughts when, as a kid, I was passing by the cemetery. There were many rows of graves of WWI and WWII soldiers; the tombstones that said ‘unknown soldier’ were far more numerous than the ones with a name. Back then, as a child, I shuddered thinking what it must be like to lose my mom or dad that way.
On the one day when their sacrifice was acknowledged, which in my birth country was October 25th, each tombstone carried a wreath; I got to lay a few during my school years, as many kids did. The reverence born out of that gesture never left me. Fast-forward to today: my husband is also a war veteran. He still serves in the Reserves. I occasionally go for a mental walk among the ‘unknown soldier’ graves. What if? It’s sobering to think. It’s even more sobering to know that for some it is not just a thought but reality.
Hence my pointing in my last column to Christmas merchandise appearing too soon on our shelves. I love Christmas (OK, not the overdone commercial side of it,) but timing things properly has its merits. Before we get to the merry tunes of winter, we must pay respects to those who served and to those still serving. To those who stand ready.
We live in peace; that is no little thing. The world does not though. There are too many children my sons’ ages in many countries who have never known anything but war all their lives. To live in peace is a gift like no other. To know that should a threat arise, there will be people who are ready to put their lives on the line, is an even bigger gift. For 364 days a year, it mostly goes unnoticed.
We can argue (peacefully) while under no imminent threat, that wars are evil, that there are better ways to solve conflicts, that too many innocent people die as casualties…It’s true: wars are evil. People die, and the terrible consequences of people serving are farther-reaching than we can imagine. Just ask the families that struggle alongside veterans, and ask those who had to rebuild their lives and country following a war. But just by saying that we do not agree with wars will not solve any conflicts. We must honour before we judge.
For as long as we have people serving among us (Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, and Emergency Responders) whether in war or peace, we have to create enough space in our thoughts, in our daily conversations, and in our actions, to show that we honour their sacrifice. Think how powerful a few empty spaces would be in our stores, with nothing but a wreath and ‘Lest we forget’. Just for a few days, we would slow down to think and honour the memory of the fallen, their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of those who serve among us.
We would be reminded to not take freedom and peace for granted. We need reverence in our lives, more than ever. Gratefulness: a sacred duty to include it in our everyday life, alongside compassion. That much we ought to learn from all the suffering that has paved the path that took us where we are today.
Like it or hate it, violence has been part of our journey from the beginning of our history. I had many a conversation about the topic with civilians and with members of the Armed Forces. I like to think that somehow, if we raise our kids right, we will all sing Kumbaya and no one will never ever be mean to anyone else and no wars will ever break out again. Right. Unfortunately, humanity has both graceful and evil sides. The contrast allows us to see what we should work towards, and part of that is not ‘encouraging a war culture’ as some have said over the years but acknowledging that peace has a price.
The least we can do to show we understand what it takes is to show up for Remembrance Day ceremonies, to wear the red poppy and to pay it forward, in any way we can, through gestures of compassion and kindness, through reverence. Because so many along the way have paid with their lives so we can have the privilege of living free and unafraid.
Lest we forget.