I’m not sure when I started attending Ottawa’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony* but it was a long time ago. Nor do I recall what inspired me to start attending those somber celebrations in the first place; it’s not like I come from a military family** or have a thing for war (quite the opposite). But since I began I never missed one. Invariably I would walk to the War Memorial on November 11th for the Remembrance Day Ceremony at 11am, where I would stand silently in the chilly sunshine (or just as likely in the snow or the rain) as the fighter jets flew overhead and the cannons sounded off in the distance.
I suppose I go to the ceremony because it reminds me of something I’ve never known.
I make a point of using the time to remember my grandfather and to think of all the others like him who served in lousy wars under horrible conditions. To be honest, I would generally hope for inclement weather just so I could feel at least a smidgen of the inconvenience of standing in a trench hoping I would live to see my twentieth birthday. Of course no matter how hard the cold rain would fall, no matter how many toes fell asleep during my silent attentive stance, my annual half-hour of slight discomfort didn’t amount to a grain of sand on the beaches of Normandy in comparison to what those sorry young men and women were flung into. In fact, it’s a sick, twisted joke that I would even try to imagine what it must have been like to live through war. Or not live through war, as the case may be.
This all stands in stark contrast to my projected attitude about militarization and soldiering, a universe that I find both abhorrent and significantly distasteful. Do I respect a soldier just because they are a soldier? Absolutely not. It’s a paid position that they choose to follow and I see no need to view the job in any sort of noble regard. I especially despise the regular standing ovation that the soldier-of-the-day gets at hockey games (I always remain seated), or the fact that uniformed military personnel get preferential treatment boarding airplanes. These are just recruiting tricks meant to fool young people who might be hungry for unearned respect into enlisting.
So why do I show such respect on November 11th? I’m not sure. I guess it’s another example of my emotions battling my intellect, another example of my beliefs standing at odds with my feelings. But really, at the bottom of it I suspect it’s my way of apologizing to all those poor souls for having to endure the horrors of war, and to acknowledge that they went through something I hope and pray*** that I will never know.
So you won’t find me saluting on Remembrance Day, but it’s a day when I feel compelled to at least show up. And stand stoically.
*With no way of knowing when I first attended I have selected November 11th, 2011 as the date for this entry, due to symmetry and nothing more.
**Though my grandad and his firstborn were both in the Air Force – granddad as a cook and my uncle as a mechanic – and my nephew is currently in the army, but in no way are we a “military” family.
***Prayer being another example of my cognition being belied by my beliefs.