When my kids were little, Armistice Day meant we dressed in our best and warmest clothes, walked downtown, each holding our own red poppy.
Answering the first question posed by a querulous four year old, “why are we doing this?” gave me cause to put November 11 in simple terms. “We re going to thank the soldiers.” And after the Last Post, and the bagpipes, the clipped feet of men and women who will never lose the ability to march in unison, my children and I would approach the Cenotaph and push the stems of our own poppies into the ground.
And now, when I hold my poppy and stand on the pavement in front of the marker that carries the heartache and loss of dead children and spouses, it s still to thank the soldiers.
These days, Armistice Day almost takes a back seat as our newspapers and news shows give way to election coverage, the various stories of who’s saying this and that, in which language, and who s promising what as Canadians head to the polls.
The American election and its resulting quandry has pushed its way to top of the hour for tv viewers and radio listeners. The Canadian federal election is getting much tougher play by our media as it struggles to identify the issues.
And our municipal election? My goodness, what a challenge for the 25,000 people who have moved to Barrie since the last election! Many people are so consumed by their commuting schedules that it must be difficult to find out anything about local issues, local politicians, local election hopefuls.
And yet… And yet…
They are all connected.
The soldiers that we go to thank dwindle in numbers every year. They are few today, far fewer than 20 years ago when my own little ones stood on the pavement with eyes of wonder. Lina Hunter is no longer carrying the drum in the Barrie Pipe and Drum Corps. Bob Hunter is no longer playing the trumpet in the Barrie Concert Band. Those who remember those who fought and fell are fewer than before.
But we, who live here in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, share with others in similar communities, the gift that resulted from the commitment made by young men and women in both World Wars. I think often we lose sight of the gift.
We can hold our own opinion, different though it might be from our neighbour s. We can walk into a polling booth without fear of being shot and mark our X beside the name that we feel is most right. We don’t have to worry that our children will be held hostage because of our actions. We can sit in a coffee shop and have an animated discussion, zinging ideas back and forth, playing “what-if s” with our ideas and nobody whisks us off to jail or dictates what our mouths will say.
And because most of us have never known anything but this kind of life, we take it for granted. And because we take it for granted, we don’t hold it in high value. And because we don t hold it in high value, almost two-third of us who could vote, won t.
But, isn t that what we thank the soldiers for?
I can t think of a better way to recognize the ultimate gift these people gave us in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, and 1952.