Hosting a thoughtful Remembrance Day Ceremony is not an easy task. We call it Remembrance Day but few people in this gym have any memories of war. Most of us likely do not even have a family member who has experienced war so are not even able to remember stories told about war.
So if remembrance, for most of us anyway, is not about recalling memories, what does remembrance mean?
Remembrance is appreciation.
We owe it to the men and women who have risked their lives and often lost their lives in service of our country to remain aware of, or become aware of, their heroism, sacrifice and loss.
118 000 Canadian men and women have died in service of our country, many of them, and I would think most of them, died young, in their 20s, 30s and 40s; some even in their teens.
Many more soldiers returned home with severe, life altering injuries, and others returned home deeply impacted by the stresses of witnessing or being a part of horrifying, traumatic events.
So, remembrance is appreciation – appreciation for the men and women who have courageously served our country with the seemingly contradictory aim of establishing peace through fighting. And remembrance is sadness, for the loss of so many people who fought for, and died for, a peace they themselves would never get to enjoy. In a sense, many soldiers traded peace in their lives for peace in ours.
Remembrance is learning, learning about the wars and peace keeping missions that Canada has participated in and learning about other conflicts as well.
When we learn about and try to understand the devastation that wars have had on soldiers, Canadians and others, on men, women, and on children, as well as the destruction of the land, one cannot help but conclude that war is the ultimate failure of humanity; it is a last resort in attempting to resolve a conflict with the intention that there will ultimately be a winner and loser when truly all sides involved in war suffer.
Remembrance is therefore a caution, a caution that all peaceful methods of solving conflict should be pursued before resorting to threats and violence.
We must also acknowledge that Remembrance is privilege. How fortunate are we to remember – past tense – people who have sacrificed and suffered in war. Not all, but most Canadians are not at present directly impacted by war – we live freely, in a democratic country, and for us living on Bowen Island, or nearby areas, we live in one of the safest places in the world.
We must acknowledge that this privilege is not afforded to everyone – the people of Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Somalia, Mali, Libya, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, Myanmar – the list goes on – do not have the comfort and security that I think most people gathered here today feel, and quite frankly, take for granted. And really, shouldn’t we be able to take being safe for granted? This sense of safety and security should not be a privilege, it should be afforded to all.
But it is not, so remembrance is responsibility. We cannot simply enjoy our privilege. The people of Bowen Island, and the people of Canada generally, have responded to the responsibility of helping others from around the world in need of safety and security, accepting them as refugees with the belief that they will enrich our country, not threaten it.
Remembrance is many different things to different people. For all of us, though, I suspect remembrance is sadness; sadness for the loss of life from war and sadness that despite sacrifice, no war has yet become the war to end all wars.