I don’t remember the last time it snowed like this on November 11th. I know that it is never a warm day but I do not remember this day to snow as much as it has today – and as it continues to as I type these words. Every day on this year, I travel downtown to Old City Hall for the Remembrance Day Ceremony. I have done this my entire life, only missing out on the couple of years that I have been away traveling on this day. I do this because it is important to me. To honour my grandfathers and other relatives who fought in the wars. To honour all of the people who were so brave. I do it because it is an immense privilege to live in a city and country where we are able to do such a thing. Where we can gather on the street, people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds, together to commemorate the incredible people who experienced the darkest times that the world has seen.
There is usually a moment in the ceremony that gets me. Where a lump in my throat forms and I let out a sound and tears being to roll down my cheeks. Today that moment happened when a WWII Veteran was finishing the Act of Remembrance suddenly gained power in his voice and said bold;y and strongly: we WILL remember them. The emphasis was on WILL. And that was all I needed to hear to crumple a little. To let the tears flow.
The only time I saw my Paternal grandfather cry was one Christmas when someone had gifted him with a slideshow of photos from the war. Black & white photos of him and the people who we fought with put together in a slideshow on a VHS. I don’t know who else was in the room when he pressed play. I feel like I was one of the small few. I watched him though my child eyes, this man who had always been so stern and strict, suddenly crumple and cry. Uninhibited, unashamed until he remembered that I was in the room. I remember locking eyes with him but I don’t know that words were spoken other than him telling me that war was a terrible thing. We never spoke of it again and never again, not even as cancer crippled his body did I see him so vulnerable. That was his moment.
Now 75 years later, I stood at a cenotaph as the snow gently fell and I listened to this Vet powerfully say we WILL remember them. I heard the emotion in his voice. The bravery he had as a young man. The pain that he experienced, that those around him experienced.
Like my grandfather, I can imagine that over the decades he lacked ways in which to express all of this. How to work through the horror that they had experienced so that they could live regular lives. My grandfather wasn’t the best man at times. He was an alcoholic and was abusive at times. Something that he worked through later in life. And he did his best. He taught me about birds. Most of what I know of them I can credit to him. But there was always a darkness to him. He carried that weight with him every minute of the day. My grandfather wasn’t the best man but he also lacked the tools to do better, to be better. To truly express himself. Because in those days, you were not encouraged to express and talk about what you had seen. You were expected to return to regular life and to bury those experienced horrors deep inside. He did his best given what tools he had.
What a privilege it is to now live in this world where we are encouraged to express. Where we can scream and write and say all that we feel. Where a WWII Vet can boldly say those four words and we can feel their vibrations. Where we can feel his pain and sadness and we can acknowledge it all. Where we can be embraced by others for doing this. Where we no longer need to hide.
Today we WILL remember them. As we will everyday.