Earlier this week writer Wayne Benedict brought to my attention a very important point. Remembrance Day is one of the few recognized holidays that has no formal greeting slogan, no catch phrase, no reminder that makes people feel in the spirit of the day. Granted, people are often confused about what to feel for such a day. The other slogans are associated with joy: Merry Christmas, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Halloween, etc. Yet Remembrance Day is a solemn occasion as we recall those who fought and those who sacrificed their lives for our comfort, security and luxurious freedom. But rather than deal with the mixed feelings of such a day, we allow ourselves to glaze over the importance, to forget the meaning, or just not discuss what makes us feel uncomfortable. Sure, we pay tribute. Wear the poppy. Feel grateful when we look at it. Those who remember the world wars, or who have missing pages in their photo albums from those who fought may feel about the day more strongly and more personally. Terrorist attacks on the “?free’ world may make some of us question our expectation to that freedom and remember more faithfully those who died for that right, but “?lest we forget,’ for the greater part, serves only as a trigger for those who remember in the first place.
As a kid, I always found Remembrance Day one of those tricky holidays. My parents were born after the last world war, and Desert Storm was still in the future. The realities of war and Remembrance Day were foggy and unclear; the history so distant I could have been mourning the passing of the last ice age for all that I understood the relevance.
I can remember awaiting the day away from school with tempered anticipation – this wasn’t a good holiday to loudly celebrate your lack of homework or dance with glee about sleeping in or getting up early to watch morning cartoons in your pajamas – at best that would get me a sharply spoken “?People died for this. Go rake the leaves,’ from my dad, or even worse, a “People died for this. Now watch the four hour Remembrance Parade on T.V. with me and pay attention,” from my mom.
The days leading up to Remembrance Day, school assemblies and poppy poems would be filled with the phrase “People died for this. Pay attention.” All forms of adults were impatient with the childish misunderstanding surrounding a sad celebration. Granted, I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer as a child. Indeed, I could often have been better placed in the spoon rest. The idea of someone dying for my freedom didn’t make sense to me. Freedom wasn’t even a concept – it was a taken for granted reality and I had no clue why we’d need to fight for it, because I didn’t understand how it could be taken away. The explanations of teachers that freedom was going to school, working where you wanted, having food to eat and money to buy it doesn’t count as great freedoms in the mind of the seven year old girl who has a home and two working parents living in Canada. Freedom meant Disneyland on summer vacation, and days in the woods by the creek playing Robin Hood. These, of course, were never mentioned on the freedom list, and I doubt the connection to a forty-year war and my past times would have made it into my securely bubbled brain anyway. The barked out phrase “People died for this. Pay attention” made me listen and not fidget. Age and perspective and a broadening concept of social situation made me understand the luxury of my existence.
School, work, play, vacations, shopping, choice: these are why people fought and died. We have to pay attention because we owe those who fought our respect, our gratitude, and our very way of life. Only when we are in such a privileged state of being do we even have the opportunity to take such things for granted and forget why we have them to begin with.
So, regardless of the holiday’s lack of propaganda and commercialism, we’ve been given a gift that would never fit under a tree with a bow. This is the day we remember what gives us the freedom to have a merry and happy everyday.
The title of the piece is Wayne’s appropriately developed catch-phrase for Remembrance Day – my thanks to him for letting me appropriate it!