Remembrance Day is a time for us to pay our respects to those that put their life on the line to protect our country and all of it’s freedoms. Freedom to make our own choices, freedom from dictatorship. Freedom to pursue a life of happiness. It’s a time to reflect on what it means to be Canadian and to be grateful for living in a democratic society that is possible because of those that took a stand on the front lines. It’s a time to remember that we enjoy so many freedoms because others fought for us to have those freedoms. It’s a time to honour those that lost their lives during the battle.
For me, it has special meaning and bittersweet memories. As a child I was not allowed to participate in any of the ceremonies held to honour our war veterans, or to acknowledge the sacrifices that our brave soldiers made.
My paternal Grandfather was a Private in the Second World War and served as an orderly in a hospital in England. He was so young when he went off to serve his country, he left as a boy and returned as a man. A man who was very different from the person who witnessed all of the atrocities of war. He worked in the operating room at the hospital, cleaning up after surgeries were performed to save limbs and lives. He saw things that no human could ever forget. He served his country faithfully for 3 years, while his wife (my grandmother) waited for him to return. She was pregnant with my father when he left to go overseas. My grandfather would not meet my father until he was 3 years old.
As a child I remember seeing old men coming to our school to talk to us about war and why they were proud of defending our country. I remember seeing the veterans rolling in wheelchairs and being horrified by all the amputees. I remember seeing how they dressed sharply in their uniforms, adorned with poppies. I remember thinking that this would never happen again in my lifetime. I remember feeling ashamed for not being allowed to participate in something that even as a child I could see was very important.
In the seventies, my parents joined a cult that exerted extreme control over every aspect of our lives. We were required to remove ourselves from anything outside of their organization. I remember feeling so disrespectful for having to stand in the hallway while the war veterans gave their presentation. Even at an early age, I could clearly see the sacrifices these people had made to protect our freedom. I suffered with an internal struggle to obey my parents in the face of such hypocrisy and ingratitude. I realized at a very early age the extreme irony of being forced to do something that I personally didn’t believe in, while living in a country that had fought for the rights of all Canadians. Yet, I was not free to participate in a tradition that I thought was important and special. As a child I was expected to do everything I was told without question. I was not allowed to express doubt or disbelief. I was not allowed to disagree or object to anything. This was done in strict adherence to a high-control religious organization. I found it maddening that their rights to practice a “religion” that stripped their members of their rights, were protected by the very people I was supposed to disregard. I was to remove myself from their presence and not show them any honour. I found this to be very disrespectful and distasteful. And yet, out of sheer obedience to my parents I did just that. I would have to excuse myself from the Remembrance Day assembly and stand in the hallway while the soldiers delivered their messages and handed out poppies. I always felt sick to my stomach and I never made eye contact with anyone as I left the room. Inside I was filled with turmoil. I felt like I was betraying myself every time I had to announce to the entire classroom that I could not participate in Remembrance Day. The teacher always looked at me with pity in her eyes. Some kids looked at me with confusion, while others looked at me like I was a traitor. I felt like a traitor!! But I couldn’t defend myself for fear of the consequences at home. Soldiers had fought and died for my freedom, but a cult had stripped that away. The irony was sickening.
Years later I escaped the cult and started a brand new life. I promised to be true to myself from that point on. I made a big deal out of every holiday and celebration when I had children of my own. Sometimes I went over the top in an attempt to make up for the past. I proudly wear a poppy every year and I reflect on how lucky I am to have a second chance to express myself and involve myself in things I truly believe in.
I have a son who is a Corporal in the Reserves. He’s been in the Army for 8 years now and for years we went to the Remembrance Day Ceremony together. He would wear his dress uniform and participate in the parade in the arena. It made me proud to finally stand up and sing O Canada and honour all of our past and present soldiers. It makes me happy to know that my son makes his own choices and defends the rights of others to do the same. I am not a warmonger. I’m more of a peace-loving hippie on the inside, but I respect those men and women that put their lives on the line to protect our country and our freedoms. I sleep better at night knowing that someone is watching over us.
My life has come full circle and I’m grateful for another chance to do things my way. I never take anything for granted and I know that I enjoy this beautiful country because of the dedication and loyalty of our soldiers. Past and present! This Remembrance Day I will once again find a way to pay tribute to our veterans. My son has moved to Calgary so I won’t be going to the arena with him, but I will still pay my respects by going alone or taking someone with me. I am so proud of the service my grandfather gave and I’m proud of my son’s training with the military. Their involvement in the military gives me a connection to a tradition I had always wanted to honour. I am a proud Canadian who wears a poppy and honours Remembrance Day with reverence.
*Images courtesy of Google