I was a little late getting into church today, so I missed the piper's entry that we always have for the Remembrance service. I entered the narthex just as the two minutes of silence were being observed.
If accuracy were an issue, we might call this the 'two minutes of relative quiet'; how does one achieve true silence in this day and age? Even in a church full of well-intentioned folk, there is shuffling, the occasional murmur or cough, the sounds of traffic outside, a faraway door closing. And of course, very small children can't be expected to make observances, and I am certain they must find the sudden change in ambient noise unsettling.
Heck, if I'm being honest, I kind of find it unsettling. Two minutes can seem to be a very long time for focused reflection, especially on something as sombre as remembering the honored dead.
My kids no longer experience Remembrance Day the way I did; with a school assembly and a parade to the cenotaph to see wreaths being layed. Today, schools are closed and shops are open, which strikes me as being more than a little backwards.
I'm not saying we should spend the entirety of the day clothed in sackcloth or wailing in the streets, or attending some government-sponsored form of obeisance; everyone should be allowed to commemorate in their own fashion, and the freedom that we celebrate in concordance with the sacrifices of our war dead means that people should be free to not observe at all, if this is their wont.
Still, are our lives so busy that a day given over specifically so that observances can be made needs to be spent shopping? Do we really need to be hustling between Booster Juice and Sport Chek at 11:00 this Thursday just because we can? Would the retail engine that drives so much of our economy misfire if we held off on opening until, oh, I don't know, noon?
It's not as though dying in the service of your country is less relevant now than it was during the First and Second World War; there are Canadians doing it right now in Afghanistan, as they have in Sinai, Cyprus, Kosovo and countless other places since 1945. There is a tendency to draw special attention to the veterans of WWII, perhaps because there has never been a situation or an army quite like that one.
It's difficult to imagine a scenario that would require a mobilization of a citizen army the way that the Second World War did, but the idea of career people walking away from their jobs, sons leaving home to take up arms, fathers leaving their families to secure a safer future for them, and women taking up the jobs left by these men, both in uniform and as civilians is impossible to picture in our current age. The type of sacrifices made and the prices paid by both the victims and survivors of the horrors of war don't superimpose very well over a society resolutely engaged in maintaining the status quo.
The last veteran of the First World War has passed on, and the ranks of those who returned home from WWII grow thinner and thinner every November, and soon they will be naught but memories, and I worry a lot about how long they will persist in that state. Once they are forgotten, how long before we forget the sacrifices of those currently in service? Or has it already happened?
So far we have never missed an opportunity to pay our respects on Remembrance Day as a family. I think a deep sense of gratitude for those who have served and are serving is critical in raising our daughters to be good citizens, and we talk at length about why wars are fought, and why good people might volunteer to fight in them. In dulce et decorum est pro patria mori the Romans once said; it is noble and good to die for one's country. I prefer how Robert Heinlein paraphrased it: "The noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and the war's desolation." The people we remember on November 11 have done just that, but their deeds will mean so much less if the people who did them should be forgotten.
In previous years we have gone out the Legislature to see the wreaths layed and the artillery salute, but with 2011 marking the end of Canada's combat operations in Afghanistan, I think we may go to the Garrison this time around, if it is open to the public. Anyone who wants to is welcome to join our family, whatever we end up doing.
I hope everyone reading this takes the time to observe in some fashion, even if it is to simply participate in two minutes of silence at 11:00, or to watch part of the Ottawa ceremonies on television. Ask your friends or co-workers how they are observing; if you have plans, invite them along. Remind them to remember.