Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Seeing The Unseen On Remembrance Day

Today we make the effort to remember, to honor and to show our gratitude for the sacrifices made by others, on our behalf.

As I write this I hear the rain falling outside the window, I see my wife getting her affairs in order for the day ahead, I touch the extra red poppy that gets propped beside the computer work station, and I remember all those who can no longer listen or see or touch the world they left behind.

It may be said that there will be two parades at the ceremony we're going to attend downtown. The city's memorial tribute ends with a proud procession of people of all ages, from aged veterans in wheelchairs at the front to young cadets marching under flags at the rear. This march spreads over a few city blocks, and it's a grand sight to see. But first will come another parade, as an ever-increasing number of representatives walk the short distance to the Cenotaph in order to place wreaths on behalf of their groups of fallen comrades.

They are there in place of thousands of others who can no longer be there themselves, and as they mount their wreaths at the base of the Cenotaph I always strain to imagine a picture of who they are representing, to try and see them, hear them, touch them in my mind's eye. We may be seeing the single steps of solitary veterans, reverently placing wreath after wreath, but with each passing year it becomes even more important to keep seeing those who never walk again, so that we all may stand here, today, at this ceremony. On this day their unseen steps echo far louder in my memory than even those of the brave souls marching alongside bands and banners at ceremony's end.

The true climax of Vancouver's Remembrance Day ceremony, however, doesn't conclude with the veterans parade; there's a final, humble and unofficial ritual that many of us stay to perform. We circle the Cenotaph, some with more personal purpose than others. They are searching for the individual wreath that serves to remind the world of their lost loved one, and when they see it, they pull the red poppy formerly carried in their collar and pin it to the memorial wreath, an annual embrace of commitment that their sacrifice has not been forgotten. I usually wait a few moments before making my own personal rounds to make my own personal tribute with my own red poppy; I've come to appreciate observing the appreciations expressed by my fellow Canadians, as their example keeps making it easier for me to see the unseen, to imagine the thousands present in spirit, their shadow made as real and palpable as that of the Cenotaph at the center of our attention on this day.

Thank You for your sacrifice, Godspeed to your families and may God Keep Canada, True Strong and Free.


Sean Orr said...


Eowyn said...

Charles Henry, thank you so much for remembering those who have given more than is asked of anyone in life.

So many brave Canadians lost their lives in defense of Canada and freedom, and so many who have not yet passed on have still given over a great portion of their lives in the same effort. Which is the harder?

I'm not sure whether Canada separates days of remembrance between the fallen and the living, as we do with Memorial Day and Veterans Day -- but whether we remember those who paid with their lives, versus those who are still with us, makes no difference, in the end. Those who choose to put themselves at such risk are giving "the last full measure of devotion" that Abraham Lincoln spoke of at Gettysburg, regardless of being able to still walk in the sun.

We are asked to defend our very lives, every day we draw breath. If drawing breath is important to us, we agree on why, and how, that must take place. And, like any other give-and-take in life, down to the meanest monetary transaction, good-for-good, service-for-service, must be exchanged, in order that all organisms help each other survive.

Physically and spiritually, our veterans are the front line for us all in making sure we can go forward.

I think they deserve some thanks, for that. And you did thank them. I am profoundly grateful.

God bless you, and truepeers, and dag, for keeping the flame. (And for much more.)