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


Nov 12 2010

Remembrance Day

remembrance

To me, Remembrance Day is one of the most sacred dates of the year.  The powerful message of the day unifies us all, no matter what our background and political beliefs are, as we honour those who made ultimate sacrifices and faced unfathomable horror.  It’s pretty jarring to think of lost generations of men and women, leading ordinary lives, who were called to make extraordinary sacrifices, and of how the past remains a constant, harrowing present for those who survived.  The issue of commemoration, while seemingly neutral on the surface, can still be fraught with tensions and competing versions of history.  History tends to be written by the winners, and sometimes the writing of one’s own glorious history involves re-writing the histories of others.  I find acts of commemoration especially meaningful when framed to think of those caught in war as ordinary human beings, subject to the whims and decisions of political leaders, rather than in terms of good or evil incarnate.   War literature, especially the anti-war poets of the First World War, is particularly effective at capturing these sentiments, and I would like to share a few of my favourite war poems with you.    

“In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae, is one Canada’s most enduring and distinctive symbols.   Inspired by the imagery of the poem, the wearing of poppies in Canada, the UK, and the rest of the Commonwealth, is a powerful tribute to our war dead.  Written by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae following the death of his friend, the poem remains one of the most popular pieces of war literature of the past century.

\”In Flanders Fields\”

The Great War poets, particularly Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, wrote defiantly against the common public perception that war was a grand adventure, a rite of passage, and a necessary expression of patriotism, and exposed the shocking, realistic horrors of war.  Their accounts of the development of gas and trench warfare, as well as the dissonance between the decision-makers at home and the soldiers who suffered the consequences of these decisions, give an eloquent and powerful alternative to the romantic language and imagery commonly found in earlier war poems and other literature.

“At the Cenotaph,by Siegfried Sassoon

I saw the Prince of Darkness, with his Staff,
Standing bare-headed by the Cenotaph:
Unostentatious and respectful, there
He stood, and offered up the following prayer.
“Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial
Means; their discredited ideas revive;
Breed new belief that War is purgatorial
Proof of the pride and power of being alive;
Men’s biologic urge to readjust
The Map of Europe, Lord of Hosts, increase;
Lift up their hearts in large destructive lust;
And crown their heads with blind vindictive Peace.”
The Prince of Darkness to the Cenotaph
Bowed. As he walked away I heard him laugh.


Nov 1 2010

Trick or Treat? Trick. Just Trick.

These stories raised me.  Not well.

These stories raised me. Not well.

Greetings, my dear ghostlings!! I wish you all a very spooktacular Hallowe’en!  I hope you’re getting up to much mischief and funnery, and that you’re feeling the buzz of a sugar high that won’t crash until at least mid-November.  Hallowe’en has crept up on us like a raccoon in a party hat, which is to say that it’ll be rooting through our garbage for leftover dip and discarded party favours while we’re out buying discount candy and mesmerized by sugar skulls the next day.

As a lover of all things strange and macabre, Hallowe’en is always a special holiday for me.  Let us count the ways: Good Girl Kylie delighted in the illicit thrill of partaking in a holiday that my dental hygienist mother loathed, because all the candy made my siblings and I act like hyperactive gremlins.  You can bust out the dance moves to Thriller and get looks of approval, rather than looks of “now-where-is-the-security-guard?” It’s a rare socially-sanctioned time to go on a terrifying candy rampage- and the candy is free! Even better, if you’re from an especially-friendly rural area, like me, where there’s an over-abundance of candy and fewer trick-or-treaters, your prime trick-or-treating years aren’t over when you’re 13.  I know this, because I went last year.  At age 25.  A friendly rural area helps, yes, but not having any shame helps even more.  Around Hallowe’en time, you can tell as many ghost stories as you can handle, and not seem creepy- because creepy is the point!  You get to be all creative with costumes, and even wear them to school! (One year, my mom made matching Peter Pan costumes for her and I- – treasured Hallowe’en memory, fo’ sho’- -and another year, in university, I was “Princess Diana: Business Casual.”  What are your favourite costumes?)  The history behind modern Hallowe’en is incredibly fascinating and enchanting, as are the different cultural interpretations.  To me, what really sets Hallowe’en apart from other holidays isn’t necessarily the spooks and the treats, but the pure, unfettered joy it brings.  It allows- -and demands- -that your imagination run completely free, howling and whipping around wildly as you struggle to hold on for the ride.   Hallowe’en is a holiday that’s completely about fun, and largely devoid of the obligations and and suffocating lists duties demanded of other holidays.  

Yep, Hallowe’en is completely about fun…until you have to pay a visit to my mom and the dentist chair…

To keep the atmosphere eerie and the shenanigans spooktacular, here are some of my favourite Hallowe’en songs:

Hocus Pocus- \”I Put A Spell On You\”

Rockwell feat. Michael Jackson- \”Somebody\’s Watching Me\”

Buck 65- \”Zombie Delight\”

What are some of your favourite Hallowe’en memories and traditions?  I wish you all an amazing All Hallows Eve, full of mischief and (a fun amount) of trickery!

Cheers to you!

Kylie


Jun 10 2010

Influence: Miep Gies

Welcome, one and all, to a new feature on The Height of Life I like to call “Influence.”  Actually, that’s what everyone will be calling it… because that is its name.   It’s really important to have positive role models, especially ones who reflect who you are and who you want to be.   Fortunately, these role models really are all around us, although they might not be in the spotlight.  I thought I’d expand past the usual suspects of bonafide celebrities in my search for people who give good influence (not hatin’ on celebrities, not saying that there aren’t plenty of role models to be found within the glossy pages of Tiger Beat, but I just want to cast the spotlight on some lesser-known but fully deserving interesting people who are doing interesting things.   Some of these interesting people also happen to be tall.  Others are not, but are tall in character.  I’m always on the lookout for new subjects for Influence, so if you have any suggestions (or would like to nominate your fine self) please shoot me an e-mail.   Any feedback is totally appreciated.

I’m thrilled to announce that Miep Gies is the very first subject for Influence.  Best known as one of five Dutch citizens who worked together to hide Anne Frank, her family, and other friends from the Nazis in World War II, Gies truly is a lasting example of courage and heroism.  She passed away on January 11th, 2010.  She was 100 years old.

I first read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was eight or nine years old.  That book acted as a gateway to the history, literature and testaments of the Holocaust for me- – so much that I ended up getting an MA in War Studies, with a focus on genocide, memory and denial.  When I was younger, my teenage flair for the melodramatic, combined with my runaway imagination, would often will the events of only half a century ago to seep into the present.  I would examine ever room in my house for the best places to hide, or to hide someone else.  I’d hear a knock on the door and imagine that a Nazi inspector was standing there.  All this bizarre activity on my part was an attempt to understand what it was like to hide for your life, and what it was like to hide others, often at the risk of your own life.   What it was like to be Anne Frank.  What it was like to be Miep Gies, who was the last surviving member of the small group who hid Anne and her family in the Secret Annex, and more famously, the woman who saved Anne’s diary in hopes of returning it to her at the end of the war.     

Earlier this year, Miep Gies passed away at 100 years of age, and so the last living connection to Anne was severed.   The entire world mourned, especially the girls who loved to read Anne’s diary, for they would grow up to be women who loved Miep Gies, and who hoped, if ever the situation called for it, that they would have the strength and character to do what she did.   The very existence of the Holocaust denies us any chances for closure, or any fist-pumping, “triumph of the human spirit”- types of happy endings.   However, the stories of the Annes and Mieps which later emerged give us a small bit of hope and belief in humanity.  They provided us with something, anything that was positive and redeeming, in the midst of an irredeemable “no man’s land of the mind,” as Elie Wiesel once described Auschwitz (the death camp he survived) and the Holocaust.  I believe that is why the popularity of Anne’s story continues to endure. 

Although the monstrous dictates of the Holocaust and the Second World War were created by world leaders and other People of Great Importance, there was no shortage of ordinary people willing to carry them out.  Thankfully, there were also committed, ordinary individuals of limited means who were still willing to risk everything and perform acts of extraordinary courage and kindness.  Miep’s story is not one of glorious triumph and heroic recognition.  Rather, Miep’s story is defined by an unwavering sense of human duty and belief in the inherent humanity of others, as well as a quiet, humble courage.  It speaks volumes that Miep didn’t even read Anne’s diary before handing it over to her father, the lone survivor of the Secret Annex.   As a society, we tend to think that it must be extraordinarily difficult to be a truly horrible person, even in times of war and chaos, but the truth is is that it is extraordinarily difficult to be a truly good person, especially in times of war and chaos. 

According to Miep Gies, “You don’t have to be a hero to do your human duty… who was a hero?  I was not.  I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary.”

A grateful and humbled world begs to differ.  We should all strive to be so “ordinary.”