I remember the Remembrance Day assemblies as a child. I found them confusing and terrifying. I didn’t understand the lowered eyes, faces. The scrutinizing stares and glares from grown ups, and worse, grown ups who were authority figures. Teachers, and worse yet Principals. Principals in my elementary school mind were the Grand Poobah’s of punishment. You were sent there if you were terribly awfully evil. Kids who SKIPPED SCHOOL were sent there. Rude boys who chewed up paper into spit-able wads and hawked them into girls’ hair were sent there. And scary things happened back then in the icy cold quarters of the Grand Poobah. I recall one particularly sadistic science teacher who gave a demo of the STRAP in front of a gathering of us little peeps to kick off the school year. Welcome, kiddies, mwah, ha ha. He was articulate and dramatic in his lead up, obviously having missed his calling in American politics. But he was also menacing, holding the strap in his hand and running it over his open palm, and then lunging for effect. Towering over us with his shiny balding forehead glistening sweat (no offense to the handsome hairless, but the visual stuck) and squinting his eyes fiercely tight. He exuded predator with a hair trigger (oh geez —that unintended pun was particularly painful). And we walked on kiddie eggshells, ready at the flip of a switch to have our small but evil souls exposed to the world and to suffer the gruesome pain we deserved. I am going to call the atmosphere of ‘remembering’ back then one of ‘somber at gunpoint’. Because it’s not that we wee folk didn’t care, or respect the elders, the history, the occasion. But we didn’t understand. The procession simply blended together a whole lot of what we were doing wrong on any given day. We weren’t taking matters seriously enough. We were laughing… wait for it… inappropriately. We wanted to have fun when it was NOT EVEN RECESS. We were restless sitting cross legged with hands in laps. We didn’t FEEL like learning math. We didn’t appreciate that innocent people with families gave their lives for us. Actually died. Whether we wanted them to or not. Gulp. We wanted a thank you, no thank you, on the relaying of that heavy baton.
I recall elderly gentlemen at a podium, bedecked with medals, telling meandering stories in scarcely audible voices. There was always one chosen kid who recited Flanders Fields, who had a Grandpa with medals and seemed to know what was going on and be a part of the ceremony, but many of us were impostors, failing at respect and honouring by simply getting up in the morning and eating toast. I wanted to be sad. I knew that I was supposed to be grievously sad. I felt ashamed of my lack of tears. I mean I was a goody goody do bloody anything to avoid disapproval kind of youngster. But there was no Oscar going to me for crying on cue, and the particular emotion that I was doing a bang up job at suppressing on this early morning was fear —of treachery and that I had somehow had a hand in it.
So fast forward to my days of parenting young children. I didn’t want them to feel shame and guilt. I was not even sure about the war message that was being passed on. What if someone was a pacifist? Was this something that needed to be tied to education? One plus one equals two, war is how we solve for peace. Now don’t get me wrong, I was NOT telling anyone else what to believe or that their relatives’ bravery wasn’t important or that there shouldn’t be an honouring for them. But what if one’s spiritual and moral beliefs are that “war is the left hand stabbing the right hand”. Where was the freedom to believe that? Because I didn’t feel it was being offered to my children, or myself back in the day, when not appearing somber enough could get you some public lashings. I told my kids that they did not have to attend. I told them that fighting might be the right path for some, but that it isn’t just about heroism and nobility; that there are gruesome horrible impacts, and that not every hero was there by choice. I supported kindness and the support of those directly involved, without handing the children a cross of despair and remorse and shame to bear in their tiny hearts. And that felt right. Protecting them felt right.
Forward again another fifteen years, during which I have learned to forgive everyone and everything, and that makes for a lot less need for protection, from or against or for. Fifteen years ago-me needed a voice. She needed to save just one little lamb. And so ‘looking after’ was the right choice.
Today-me feels something very different. I feel a love that goes out to everyone and protects us all. I see the lights on Memorial Drive and I feel a warmth in my heart that we-you-and everyone within six degrees of separation have a way to reach out to a loved one, to value their gift to us, to value the story of them. What helps another cannot hurt me. I am no longer at war with someone else’s war.
I am just here to help. At least on most days of the week.
Today I want to join with you in sending love and gratitude and significance to your beloveds. To honour their gifts however they were given. To hear their stories. And celebrate their good good hearts. To hold them high above death and loss and fear and hate and war, in our hearts and lives and minds.
And more than that I want to reach out to YOU, beloveds.
The quiet unsung hero of the every day.
And the fiercely big bold champions of good.
For donating your kidney, or for NOT yelling at the jerk who stole your parking spot.
For every tiny act of kindness in between.
There is a hero in every one of us. And we all deserve to know them.
To know that another’s hurt is not our failure.
It’s just an opportunity to grow love.
And Love is nothing to fear.
*cues choirs of angels*
*tries to make peace sign but accidentally offends the Commonwealth*
— Love Erin
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