Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day

I realized, just this morning, that I hadn't attended a proper Remembrance Day ceremony since 2006. Each November since that time had been spent in Korea or Thailand, and there's either too much Pepero or too much Beer Laos in those locales to focus on what the day really means back in Canada.

I was pleased the last two years when teaching in Korea however, when I was able to implement a pretty cool poetry lesson using Jon McCrae's famous poem "In Flanders Fields". It was sobering for the vast majority of the students to recognize that British Commonwealth countries recognize their war dead in such a way. The lesson really worked, and it was nice to note that I was able to collect a great deal of Pepero on the day: students who brought me Pepero on November 11th got a Canadian flag pin in return. I was rolling in Pepero for weeks afterward.

Anyway, I was glad to head down to Victory Square this morning to take in my first Vancouver Remembrance Day ceremony and my first one on Canadian soil in half a decade. There was a great turn-out on a soggy grassy hillside - the rain which had stopped before the ceremony had already had its way with the green space.

It was a beautiful ceremony - what always gets to me the most, among the songs, readings, and wreath-layings, is "Flowers of the Forest", the Scottish Lament - and the silence that precedes and follows it.

It's also interesting to see how people react to the day - from a myriad of personal places of hurt, sadness, gratefulness, or anger. At today's ceremony, a woman waved a Canadian flag from an open window that looked down on the parade below. Her sign called for an end to the Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, and she became vocal - with tangible sadness in her voice. Not knowing her, or the place her emotion came from, I can only sit back and respect both her, and the people marching below who fought to maintain a country where she has the right to speak her mind.

When soldiers themselves can be in support of or rally in protest against their wars, it's clear that nobody - not even one directly involved - can have a monopoly on appropriate response. Looking at the variety of those laying wreaths, I see the day being about those who were lost; those who have worn a uniform and survive to continue to do so; and those who have watched others deploy and never come back. There's just something in me that reminds me that I have no right to tell Cindy Sheehan or Richard Tillman to keep their mouths shut - especially on Remembrance or Veteran's Day.

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