When I was in high school, a family from Sri Lanka moved to town. I'd barely met anyone from out of province, let alone the other side of the world. Dina was in my grade and we became fast friends. I remember her telling me about war. Me - a kid born in a free country, in a safe neighbourhood - who slept peacefully in her bed every single night. To me, war was something so far removed from anything I knew. War was on TV, in history textbooks and of no direct consequence to me. As I got to know Dina, I got to know more about the civil war in Sri Lanka that had been raging since she was 7 years old. I have never erased that image of her: a child hiding under her kitchen table, hands over her ears, trying to block out the sounds of bombing not far from her home. For the first time in my 14 years - war had a face.
War has a face. No matter where it happens. Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan. War is war. Innocent are lost on every side of battle.
The war in Afghanistan has continued for 8 years. Yesterday in Calgary, Canada's 133rd war casualty was laid to rest. I am sure the family of Sapper Stephen Marshall would want you to know him as more than just a number. I am sure the families of innocent civilians lost in the crossfire would want you to know them as more than an afterthought on the evening news. I am sure the veteran selling poppies would want you to know the best friend he lost in WW II was more than a statistic. You know what I worry about? I worry that we become numb to the news of war dead. I worry that we forget that numbers are people. People who lived, breathed, laughed and loved just like you and I.
As a kid, it was instilled in me to pay my respects on November 11th. At school we had a wreath-laying ceremony, a minute of silence, a reading of In Flanders Fields. It was tradition. I accepted it as such, but I'm not sure I really grasped the depth of what it meant. Now that I'm older and I understand fully and completely, I find myself fiercely protective of maintaining that tradition. It looks like I'm in good company too. News reports this week say that more Canadians than ever will be 'remembering' on Remembrance Day and a great majority feel it should be mandatory to observe that minute of silence (or 2, as urged by the House of Commons just days ago).
For the first time in many of our lives, we have seen the tragedy close to home. There are kids participating in school ceremonies who have lost loved ones in recent years. A kind of innocence has been lost. Which is why to me, it's that much more important to show them that as a nation an as individuals, we are grateful and we are proud.
Why silence? Well, I can tell you what it means to me. It's more than not talking. In fact, on Remembrance Day that silence speaks volumes...much more than anyone could ever offer in words. The sacrifice that soldiers have made - recently - and in so many generations past is so monumental, so profound and significant that words wouldn't feel like enough. Silence offers a form of individual connection, a personal reflection, a quiet offering of respect and pride and peace. And the fact that we unite en masse to do so -
makes it that much more powerful. When you observe that moment of silence, I hope you treat it with as much due respect as you would our national anthem, because they are really one in the same.
2 000 soldiers from Quebec alone have served this country. Many of them came home from Afghanistan just a few days ago. They are your neighbours, friends, sons, daughters, co-workers. Let's honour their sacrifices. It's the least we can do.
November 11th, at 11am, let your silence speak for you.