Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: Remembrance Day

Weekly column: Why wearing the poppy is not a political statement

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor news on Monday, November 9, 2020.

It is Sunday afternoon as I write this, and we’re three days away from Remembrance Day on November 11. A long-overdue and overlooked commemoration has also been recently rectified by our government. November 8 has now been marked as Indigenous Remembrance Day. Their contribution was significant and the stories are emerging one after another.

A few days ago you may have heard about the poppy-centered short-lived but powerful storm that surfaced in the news and social media.

Whole Foods forbade their employees to wear the Remembrance Day poppy, but following the above-mentioned ‘storm’, the decision wilted, no pun intended. It was heartening to see how Canadians across the country, our premier included, responded to the initial ban.

Yes, we care about the poppy.

Weekly Column: Remembrance Day Files – It Feels Like Family

‘In Flanders fields, the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place, and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below…’

It is impossible to describe the deep reverence the reading of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s famous poem conferred to the sea of people gathered around the cenotaph on Remembrance Day. It is one of those situations that can be summed up by an overused but adequate phrase: ‘you had to be there.’ The words of the poem are haunting, and the images they conjure stay alive in the hearts and minds of us all. Every single time.

Weekly Column: Let’s Always Remember

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.

Our Freedom Is a Gift From Veterans

ReminderOur neighbourhood has many charming little houses, which were built for the returning veterans back in 1945. A thoughtful project meant to say ‘thank you’ in more than words.

Every year on Remembrance Day, I am reminded of two things: That there are some very brave and selfless people out there, and that the Remembrance Day ceremonies do not bring much solace to those who were injured while serving and are left at the mercy of a system that creates additional stress.

A few days ago, a soldier who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Afghanistan came forth with his story of grief.

Cpl. Shane Jones has been working with seven or eight caseworkers and has been visiting multiple doctors since his injury happened during his 2005 tour. He suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder like many other veterans — and, like many others, feels betrayed by the government.

It is sad and disheartening to hear, yet he is one of many veterans who are not getting appropriate care and consideration for their service.

There are also debates around the financial compensations for injured veterans.

A group of ex-soldiers is suing the government over the new compensation system, arguing that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A lifetime disability pension has been replaced by a lump-sum payment, a decision that has angered many.

Previous governments have taken pride in providing for veterans, recognizing the sacrifice of the wounded as a great service to the Crown. Our present government argues that promises made in the past should not be binding.

While debate flourishes, injured veterans are left, more or less, to their own devices. Some injuries are more visible than others, but all war-inflicted injuries are debilitating and take their toll on soldiers and their families.

Once a year, some of the veterans are called upon to share their story and make some of their stories known to the public. Many details are left out because they are too gruesome to share or too painful to recall.

After the wreaths are laid and the poppies are forgotten, stories are set aside for another year and the wounded veterans are back to fighting their private war.

On top of it, they have to worry about a Veterans Affairs minister who expands the definition of a veteran to the point of making it look ridiculous.

Minister Julian Fantino’s words, “… I spent 40 years in law enforcement, I too have served. I’ve been in the trenches and heard the guns go off. I guess I can also put myself and other colleagues, firefighters and other police officers, who put themselves in harm’s way every day, in the same category …” has earned him a resignation request from angered Canadian veterans.

I don’t discount the courage and dedication of firefighters and police forces; they should be honoured for their own sacrifice in serving the people of this country, too.

Some could argue that the Canadian military service is volunteer and so is deployment. But, no one goes to fight a war in their own name. Every soldier deployed by Canada is a soldier of Canada, and his or her sacrifice should be properly acknowledged.

By acknowledging them, we to teach our children that putting one’s life on the line in the name of your country is something that is honoured — not only by citizens, but also by a government that stands true to the core values of a nation honouring its fallen heroes and veterans.

A definition by an unknown author on the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association website reads: “Simply put, a veteran, whether regular or reserve, active or retired, is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to ‘The Government of Canada,’ for an amount of ‘up to and including’ his life. That is honour. Unfortunately, there are too many people in this country who do not understand it.”

Lest we forget, the freedom and peace we enjoy are a gift from today’s and yesterday’s veterans, to each of us, every day.

Originally published as a column in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday November 9, 2013

Poppies Are Red

We are headed to the Royal Canadian Legion to get a poppy tray in light of Remembrance Day coming up soon. Boys Scouts like Tony – plus parents for chaperoning – are invited to volunteer for a couple of hours. It’s a good thing, the least we can do, we both agree. The elderly gentleman greeting us, Mr. R., he’s all spruced up and affable. He explains to us the details of the mission and tells us the names of the people we’re supposed to get in touch with at the poppy spot. Tony feels very important as Mr.R. attaches a red ribbon to his chest, a sign that he’s with the Royal Canadian Legion. When you’re nine it does not get better than this on a rainy Friday afternoon. I feel like we’re headed to a rescuing mission and in a way we are I guess. Plus, times with just the two of us are rare and precious and I treasure each and every one of them.
We arrive at Save-on-Foods and look for the manager, our main poppy liaison here. We only find the human-sized cardboard version as the real person left for the day. Well then. The next person in rank has no clue we were coming but he can’t refuse the poppy affair so he brings us a table and two chairs.
“This is not looking good, Mom, I don’t think people will get any poppies.” Tony’s doubt is real. He has never done this before and I haven’t either. But it’s enlightening to be on the other side. A middle-aged guy breaks the ice. He drops a loonie in the collection box and takes a poppy. We smile and say thank you. An elderly woman comes next, she looks kind and happy. It’s a good thing. As we sit and chat, we get a stream of people walking by with their groceries. Some stop, put the bags down and reach for change or bills to donate for poppies. They leave the store with a crimson poppy on their chest and Tony’s smile trailing behind as a reminder of how good this place is with the sacrifice of all people who fought in wars.
“Mom, why are some people looking the other way when they pass by us? Other people don’t stop for poppies but at least they smile.” An astute observation by all means. I explain the best I can. Body language 101. Some people don’t know how to say no, I guess, so they avoid being put in a situation where they have to do so. But it is important to wear poppies, we owe that to the ones who sacrificed the most precious asset and to the ones who risked it and are still around to tell the story.  As Mr. R. said, as important as it is to get money to keep the veteran services running, the most important thing is for people to wear the poppies. We ought to remember, and the little crimson red does the trick.
We get some five dollar bills and lots of coins. Two little girls stop and stare while waiting for their mom to pay for groceries.
“The flowers sure are nice,” the oldest says. Her braids are cute and so is her smile.
“Yes, they are. These are poppies, you know, people wear them this time a year for Remembrance Day.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“How old are you?” I ask her.
“Four, my sister is one and a half, she can’t talk much yet.”
Tony smiles the older kid understanding smile. We’re both surprised that the little girl knows about poppies, it’s a good thing.

We talk about wars and books and maybe going to school next week now that his cold is over with. It’s almost dinner time. We walk to the car. Rain and leaves wrap around our ankles like naughty kids playing games around bedtime. It’s almost November. We drive back to the Legion office to drop off the tray and collection money for the next volunteers. We find Mr. R. in the big pool room at the back. It smells a bit like old cigarette smoke and the uniforms pinned under the big glass panels on the walls look dusty. It makes me a bit sad to wonder if the Legion is still a strong presence or slightly fading away… Who knows, I wish they stay, people like Mr. R. sure believe in it and that’s perfectly right. He sees us and comes to us right away. He smiles and hands us each a poppy quarter – Royal Canadian mint! – and a cup of jelly beans for Tony. Lots of them. To share, of course, he winks. He shakes Tony’s hand ceremoniously. Tony’s eyes meet mine. He’s proud and tall. I am too.
We walk to the car eating jelly beans. Sure I am a health freak, but this cannot be missed. I don’t like the black ones though, I tell Tony. Yellows are perfect.
At home I give my shiny poppy quarter to Sasha and Tony shares his jelly beans with him. One day he’ll share his too.

The kitchen smells of apples and cinnamon now, wafts of goodness slither out of the oven tickling noses and warming up hearts. End of October is the best time for apple pies. Outside it pours.
“We’re lucky we got to stay inside with the poppy tray, Mom,”
“Yes, that too…”

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