I just got back from the Remembrance Day assembly at my kids’ school. It is the first time since I was a kid myself that I have attended a school Remembrance Day assembly. Typically I go for the big public ceremonies. I live in Ottawa and so I typically go to the national service at the Canadian War Memorial.
While I lived in Toronto I went to the service in front of Old City Hall. I stand in silence with thousands of other people. I watch the veterans parade and I applaud as they march past. In Ottawa I listen to the 21 gun salute and I watch the jets fly overhead in missing man formation. I listen to the religious leaders speak and pray and I wait for my turn to lay my poppy on the tomb of the unknown soldier. I listen to the children’s choir sing and the piper play Amazing Grace – which pretty much brings me to tears every time. I stand and I imagine how things must have been for the soldiers in the trenches and for sailors like my grandfather braving the freezing North Atlantic. The experience is always heightened by clouds and rain or snow. For me it is a solemn experience and the focus is on memory.
I studied history in university and history involves many wars. Many of the history books on my bookshelf are war histories. I know more about the history of war than the average person. I have had the good fortune to never experience war for myself. Because I have studied the history of war I tend to think about wars past as opposed to current wars. In my professional life I have had the opportunity to work with the Canadian Forces and military families so my thoughts have started to shift to thinking more about the families of those who serve and the tremendous sacrifices they make when they lend us their loved ones.
This year I went to the assembly at school instead of the National Service and I watched the National Service on television since I didn’t have enough time to make it downtown after the school assembly. Since it is snowing today, I don’t mind doing the TV version this year. It was interesting to actually be able to see what is happening during the ceremony. I am typically deep in the crowd and can’t see what is happening and don’t really have a need to see the ceremony since I am not there to watch; I am there to share in the experience.
At the school assembly I was initially thinking about how the assembly wasn’t doing it for me. It wasn’t much about remembering past wars and service. It was classes of kids going up and reciting poems or singing songs about peace. I felt like it lacked some context about why it is Remembrance Day. However, part way through I realized that this is the future. This is what it is about.
The population at our school is very diverse with kids from all nations, ethnicities and religions. Some of these kids have lived war experience. Some come from war-torn countries and have lost family members to war, perhaps even parents. It is a school full of kids who’s ancestors fought one another and now they are studying together and singing together about peace. They are building shared experiences in peace.
The school assembly is about hope and the future. In 60 years we have moved from a global war in which tens of millions of people died to a present where their great-grandchildren are going to school together. Our challenge is to ensure that those children know enough about the horrors of war so that they are not repeated and also work towards global peace so that children and adults do not need to learn those horrors in person.
Thank you to those who have served and continue to serve. Thank you to the families of those who serve and thank you to our teachers for the hope that they instil in our children for a future of peace.