I might have gone to a cenotaph as a child but I was 14 when I created my first and only vivid recollection of Remembrance Day. I was in a grade 9 science lab. I recall the portraits of Queen Elizabeth and John Diefenbaker, the Prime Minister of Canada at the time, on the front wall. At 11 a.m. the bell rang. We were told to stand, bow our heads and remember the “fallen soldiers” with 2 minutes of silence.
The thoughts that flowed through my mind during those 2 minutes created channels that remain to this day. I wondered why I couldn’t remember. I worried that I didn’t know what I was supposed to experience. I questioned whether the exercise was for the living, the dead or both. If the latter, did the dead soldiers appreciate their deaths being honored with 2 minutes of empty silence? As I looked around I considered the probability others were feeling as uneasy as I was, embarrassed at our inability to experience remembering while trying to be ritually correct.
I now know we should feel the same gratitude toward “fallen soldiers” we’d feel toward the donor of an organ that gave us life; but do we? I still have serious doubts. Making the ceremony bigger and better over the years has not increased the depth of our gratitude. All this huffing and puffing just expanded the ceremony to occupy the growing sense of emptiness in our lives. The greater size creates only the illusion of gratefulness. I can only guess but I don’t think dead soldiers are honored by it all.
In fact, we’ve made such a mess of the freedom we were given, I can imagine the “fallen soldiers” regretting their gifts. We are less free than we have ever been of the views that create conflict . We really should be ashamed; and instead of further empty expressions of gratitude we should be apologizing. Then to honor lives given to humanity we should be engaging in the “natural activity” that will transform two minutes of silence into an unlimited future of peace and unguarded freedom.