This is the first reflection project I’m adding to SwearyParent. The Project process started on FaceBook almost a decade ago with Lent (the Spring Cleaning of my Soul), and then I decided to try Advent (the Preparing a Place where Faith can Thrive). I do these to try to be a better person. I want to think more gently and graciously, to make good choices more often. The Remembrance Project maybe doesn’t fit exactly into that model, but it does provide an opportunity to continue to be thankful. Canadian Thanksgiving was just a few weeks ago, when everyone posted messages about being grateful for this or that. All very sincere and genuine. And I try year round to consider how very blessed I am. But once I return to my regular course and speed – with car logistics and dinner menus and the increasingly early sunset, I feel like the gratitude skills atrophy a bit before I have to dust them off again for the Advent Project and Christmas.
Remember in Waywaybackland, when the beginning of November meant poppy art projects with tempera paint and tissue paper figuring prominently? You dutifully learned the words to In Flanders Fields by John McRae. And you observed a squirmy moment of silence in a school gym. The history that I studied in high school (through curriculum failure or my own disinterest) didn’t really give me a good grasp on the Canadian effort in WW1 or WW2, or any of the other conflicts since. So. For a long time, being grateful to veterans, and duly thankful for sacrifice seemed a little maudlin – War is horrible; Thanks for enduring that for us. Not insincere, but wholly misunderstanding the immensity of it all. The world is full of pictograms that are hard to appreciate. One white cross represents x number of people who died. That’s definitely a lot of little white crosses. But making the leap from pictograms to actual people is difficult to master. Is that a Skydome full? What exactly does 1% of the population look like? My mind says “a lot” and that’s a far as I can process it. Then I went to France and Belgium and visited cemeteries with 1:1 crosses (plus mass graves), and I saw what that number looks like.
I mean, Passchendaele and Hyena Road and CBC documentaries that air (or now, stream) in the weeks before November 11 certainly provide Canadian perspective on the wars in which we’ve participated. And even with the best CGI, an approximation of war is still pretend. I remember evesdropping (yeah don’t judge me) on two people talk about how upsetting the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan were, and couldn’t they have made it more (I forget the word she used, but the idea I remember was…) palatable. Wait, what? What does that even mean? And way to miss the point. Sheesh.
In my early career, I worked at a company that also had an office in Nova Scotia, where November 11 is a provincial Stat holiday. We also got the day off. I hear the argument about making it a holiday here too, sometimes, but honestly, when I worked there, few people used the opportunity to attend the services. Even for the last few years, when November 11 has fallen on a weekend, there is not an appreciably larger crowd. It seems to depend more on weather than on availability to go. That feels like a poor reason, but this project isn’t about preaching at everyone else, it’s about me. And I go every year.
One of Connor’s school projects a few years back posited the question, does Canada do a good job memorializing its veterans? As he wrote his assignment, I started paying attention myself. Surely we must, right? How could we not?
I thought about this as we wandered around Ottawa one weekend. And the memorials were both subtle (the flags with poppies and Canadian battlegrounds on light posts throughout the downtown, small bronze memorial plaques in the downtown parks) and overt (looming National War Memorial, the Peace Tower, the massive National War Museum). There are 3 cenotaphs in Cambridge alone. There must be a balance of subtle and overt everywhere else, too, right? The Poppy Streets with local veterans’ names in many towns. The plaques of names in places like Galt Arena Gardens, or the Great War Memorial Hospital in Perth, or in the Eaton Center in Toronto.
So, a writer writes. The Remembrance Project was born. Once again I’mma reflect on what it means to wear a poppy and visit a cenotaph or a memorial or attend a service. For the next fortnight (and a bit), I reflect on what it means to remember.