When I first moved to Toronto, I was surprised that Remembrance Day was not observed as a civic holiday. I had lived in Halifax for 27 years and was used to having a day off on November the 11th each year (and I will admit, it was only that as opposed to a day of reflection. The actual remembrance aspect didn’t come into play until the latter part of those 27 years). Changes always herald the unfamiliar, and so I accepted the non-civic nature of Ontario’s apparent forgetfulness and proceeded to live as a full-fledged Torontonian.
The change prompted an interesting question; why do we observe Remembrance Day? In a growing community that is now finding hope for peace above thoughts of war, why is it that we choose to take November the 11th as a day to honor the veterans who fought for our freedom? Why so much focus on war when we strive for the end of conflict? Surprisingly, it was a question that I’ve never asked myself.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 marked the end of World War 1. The Great War was won by the allied troops of the Commonwealth (including Canada) and the enemy forces agreed to surrender. A year later, the Treaty of Versailles was drawn by King George V and the hostilities between the opposing forces made its official end. The date of November 11th was marked as commemoration for those who had died fighting for our freedom.
I come from a military family. My mother’s side boasts of the longest naval dynasty in Canada’s history, its roots tracing back to France in the 1600’s. I have vice admirals, rear admirals, and advisers to past Prime Ministers in my blood. My Great Great Grandfather-in-law is Roy Brown, the man who shot down Germany’s notorious Red Baron, and my Grandfather is one of Canada’s only retired vice admirals. Despite the fact that I have obvious ties to Remembrance Day, I remained quite numb to it until very recently.
This past summer, my Grandfather introduced me to Romeo Dallaire, an old friend and colleague of his. General Dallaire is most famous for his haunting memoir, Shake Hands with the Devil, an account of his experience in Rwanda during the genocide (if you have not had the privilege of reading it, please do so, but be warned that it is not for the faint of heart). I was honored to meet such an acclaimed author, but what I found out next was even more humbling.
My Grandfather told me that General Dallaire was still recovering from his service in Rwanda, despite the fact that nearly twenty years have passed. I saw a very human face in the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that General Dallaire suffered from, and my Grandfather explained to me, in the most passionate of words, how deeply the genocide had affected his friend. It was so awful that I could barely stand to listen.
“Then why did he go through it all, Grandpa?” I asked. “Why would he go through such a situation if he knew how traumatic it would be?”
“Because he loves peace and believes that everyone deserves it.” said my Grandfather.
It was the most beautiful response I had ever heard. It was what was being lost in translation during the Remembrance Day celebrations if my past and what I needed to remember for my future. I was in awe of General Dallaire, and I took a moment then and there to thank those who had passed on to the next life as they boldly fought for us on the front line.
It’s so easy to forget. It’s easy to be caught up in our own lives, focusing on the future without paying the proper tribute to our past. And yet, despite all this, there are some things from our past that we can never forget, and never should. Today, I urge you all to pause and take a moment of silence not just for the heroes and casualties, but also for the enemies who have perished on the battlefield. Through compassion, we may one day find an end to all war.
Lest we forget.
Contributing author:Lauren Messervey.
Lauren is the social media coordinator for Yoga Tree. An avid Yogi with a love for Tree Pose, she is originally from Atlantic Canada and joined the bustling city of Toronto in June of last year. You may find her in the Midtown region, practicing Yoga or blogging for Yoga Tree. She is currently completing her first novel, set to be released Spring 2014.