We stood or sat shoulder to shoulder filling the gymnasium of Weledeh Catholic School Friday morning.
It was the first time we had gathered in more than two years to honour the lives of our veterans. Families with young children, youth, seniors, people of all ages, races and social class gathered to sit together in silence or watch the slides that marked the catastrophic raid which unfolded at Dieppe 80 years ago.
Altogether, we lost close to 1,000 soldiers that bleak August day, with nearly 3,500 other casualties — and while the slogan for Remembrance Day is “We will remember them” — really what we are remembering are the brave young souls who signed up knowing that they may be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice. So many did. So many acts of heroic selflessness then, while there are many today who refuse to even wear a mask to protect others. That, too, choked some of us up.
If some shed tears again this year, it’s because, in part, we carry the sadness from those wars in our very DNA. Though the wars were many decades ago, or more recently in Afghanistan, we are with those young souls in spirit. We are all spirits together, transported back by a deep inter-generational imprint of what they did for us. They did not know our names. They could not even know we would be born, but they did it anyway.
And now, fragility characterizes these troubled times, too. We are given this short period to do our best and those in uniform step forward making their time here potentially that much shorter, and they do it willingly for us. It is this ongoing demonstration of selfless service that shook many up last Friday. We were overwhelmed by grief and gratitude. It is why Nov. 11 is so important to us.
The face of war is changing and though we don’t always recognize it, our military is being asked to do battle in ways they surely never imagined when they enlisted. Yet defend and help their fellow Canadians they do.
There they are: working in our long-term care homes at the height of Covid-19, nursing our loved ones because it was not safe for the rest of us — and the clients — to do that. The military did, though. They put on the gowns and masks and helped hospital staff — they risked their own health and well-being during the war against Covid. Many became ill.
And now, increasingly, they are being called to fight in the war against climate change. They stockpile sand bags to keep flood waters at bay, rescue people clinging to rooftops or trees, save livestock or help rebuild after storms. They assist firefighters when forests rage out of control and rescue us when hurricane winds flatten our homes. The list goes on and on constantly changing in these changing times.
And now, with the war on Ukraine, Canada is feeling a growing concern over Arctic sovereignty. The military is exercising an increased presence with the Canadian Rangers in our North. Soldiers are here in numbers and ways that they haven’t been since the Cold War, braving the elements and asserting a strong Canadian presence. They tell the world, this is our Canada … and we stand on guard for thee.
Though enlistment is down, our military is being called to fight harder than ever and it is this ongoing dedication that choked many of us up in that gym. We understand what they are being called to do in a world under pressure. We bear witness to that and this demonstration of selflessness adds to our frustration about people who argue personal rights rather than the good of the collective whole.
It is heartbreaking.
Perhaps the most important reason why this year’s service was so emotional was because we could finally stand together shoulder to shoulder, side by side, as Canadians — our national family. We could hold each other up again and feel the life force of the fellow country person beside us. We were joined. And thanks to the many slides that catapulted us back in time, we were also able to stand with our ancestors who fought so we could be in that auditorium at all. We were one through time and space.
There are incredibly perilous times ahead and we will be fighting in so many ways. Remembrance Day calls us to put aside our differences and join in this together as those who went before did as well. That might makes their sacrifice worthwhile.
We will remember them. As long as the poppy petals flutter in the wind, we will remember.