The air was cold and the streets were packed shoulder to shoulder as early as 8 a.m. on the morning of November 11th in Ottawa. I was interning for the Ottawa Citizen at the time, still in journalism school, frantically rushing around the streets looking for interesting stories and quotes from people about why it was so important for them to brave the cold out of respect for those who fought for our country.
People had come from all over. I talked to people from Victoria, Nova Scotia, Winnipeg—some carrying pictures of their loved ones who fought in the war and had since passed.
It being my first time covering a story of national significance, I hadn’t had the time to answer or even contemplate the question for myself.
Remembrance Day had always held a special place in my heart, that much I knew. It started with our annual assemblies held inside my elementary school gym growing up in the small community of Walkerton, Ontario but blossomed into something more.
As I grew older, it held significance in other events as well. I noticed it going to sporting events when, during a stoppage in play, the PA announcer would take the time to highlight a veteran or member of the Armed Forces who was in attendance that evening. Like the thousands inside the arena, I stood and applauded as a gesture of gratitude for what they did not only for me, but for my country.
Still, the patriotism, better disguised as love, for my country continued to blossom. It peaked in late October 2014, a week after the murder of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the War Memorial in Ottawa. I watched the faces gathered in the days after the attack as people paid their respects, laying bouquets of flowers where Cirillo sucked his last breaths of air from the country he stood to protect.
It was this culmination of experiences that made me realize why Remembrance Day is one of the most important days of the year for me. It forces me to acknowledge that without the efforts of those millions of veterans, the other 363 days of the year would be completely different. That I may have been a completely different person if someone else hadn’t sacrificed their freedom so I can have mine.
It’s that sacrifice that is nearly incomprehensible for us in society today. Many times we complain about making daily sacrifices—doing the dishes, taking out the trash, missing the big game—that no doubt make the lives of those around us easier. But how can we possibly understand or appreciate people who were willing to die so that we could continue to live?
For me at least, the answer is that I can’t—at least not completely. I can’t fully understand that reality. I don’t know what it’s like to hold my best friend in my arms as he’s dying so that I could live. I don’t know what it’s like to make the decision to take a life knowing that if I didn’t, I’d lose my own. I don’t know what it’s like to fight for my country as a First Nations member despite not being considered a Canadian. But there are plenty of veterans in our community and our country that do.
So on Remembrance Day and any chance I get throughout the year, I try my best to understand and appreciate those sacrifices that have enabled me to become who I am today. Without them, I wouldn’t even have the freedom to write this column.
Even though British Columbians have a holiday this Remembrance Day, that shouldn’t stop you from making your way out to your local cenotaph to pay your respects to Canada’s veterans, both fallen and still standing. At the very least, take a second and think about what Remembrance Day means to you.
If you can, thank a Veteran.