Nov 11 2011

We Are The Dead: Remembrance Day

“This had all come up with the blackness and suddenness of a thundercloud.  A few days ago nobody had even thought of such a thing.  It was absurd to think of it now.  Some way out would be found.  War was a hellish, horrible, hideous thing- too horrible and hideous to happen in the twentieth century between civilized nations.  The mere thought of it was hideous, and made Walter unhappy in its threat to the beauty of life.” – “Rilla of Ingleside,” L.M. Montgomery

Remembrance Day is tomorrow, and it is the most sacred and solemn of days.  We wear poppies, recite “In Flanders Fields” and observe a moment of silence at 11:00 am, on November 11th, but I think the real impact- so much as one could feel without having actually experienced war firsthand- endures far longer than a moment.  It sneaks in our thoughts while we’re outside on a particularly grim day, and we think of how awful it would be to have to dig a trench and die to hold on to it on such a day; only to have it occupied by the other side a scarce few days later.  We see our remaining veterans stand proudly by cenotaphs.  While they’re now in the twilight of their lives, they were barely children…16…17 years old…traveling from the ends of the earth to face a certain hell with an uncertain outcome.  Most of their comrades live on only in bits and pieces: in the tales of family history, in a mass cemetery far away, or through lucky researchers and interns (like me!) who have the privilege of sorting through their forgotten archives and miscellaneous artifacts, in an attempt to piece together a life through the smallest of details.  We reassure ourselves that we will never face that situation again, but then we realize that “Never Again” rings rather hollow when war, genocide and poverty are very much alive and well in the world.

Something I really appreciate about Remembrance Day is that it is such an enduring “holiday” in Canadian society; each new generation seems to understand the solemnity of the day.  Perhaps Afghanistan will replace Belgium as a historical visual in their minds, but the sentiment stays the same.  Ordinary people forced into harrowing, unfathomable situations.  The occasion is not one of political affiliation, nor is it a day to glorify ra-ra military heroics.  Remembrance Day is a day of loss, of mourning, of memory, of desperate gratitude.  We do not glorify, we grieve.  We are united in our grief; past, present and imagined.

“Blackadder” is one of my favourite series, and I leave you with the final scene, when they go “Over the Top.”  “Good luck, everyone.”

As some of you know, I adore the War Poets of the First World War.  Their poetry and their life stories really resonate with me.  The raw brutality and utter senselessness of war, written with such terrible and wonderful words, makes you howl with bitterness, anger and grief, and seeps into your soul.  I thoroughly recommend checking out some of their works, even if you think poetry isn’t really your cup of tea.

With much love and a heavy heart,

Kylie