11 November 2011


It's the 11.11.11 today. That's a lot of 1's in a row. It's also Remembrance Day, and this year, I'm wearing the poppy.

Remembrance Day tends to be shrouded in sepia, with splashes of red (the poppies). We remember the men - and less often, women - who fought in the wars of the 20th century, wars which, for the most part, happened more than a lifetime ago. My uncle who fell in Russia would be ninety years old now, my uncle-in-law who was left on the fields of Normandy when he was nineteen would have had his 87th birthday this summer. Or, most likely, would not have; none of his siblings lived much past 70.

I remember hearing a story of someone who described how in the 1970's he first saw Cuba, which he had only known from TV footage up to that time. His big surprise was that Cuba was in colour! All the photos and films he'd seen were black-and-white. The stories we tell on Remembrance Day tend to be in sepia tones, stories of long ago and (for North Americans in particular) far away. We forget that all those things happened in colour, were here-and-now for those who lived then.

We also forget that when we are in the midst of things, when we experience them in colour, so much that happens seems inevitable, as if there was nothing we could do about it. I'm a pacifist at heart, but really, my dedication to peace has never been put to the test. I suspect that in actuality, I'm a passivist - I just want to be left alone to live my life, to not be bothered.

And that's were Remembrance Day comes in. I can live my life in peace because of those who were not passivists. I can live in a society where it is unacceptable to disparage someone because of their skin colour, thanks to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. I, and my daughter, can hold property, can obtain university degrees, can vote, thanks to Emmeline Pankhurst and Nellie McClung. And I can sleep at night without fear of bombs dropping on my head because of those who fought the sepia-coloured wars, and those who fight today for our freedom from violence and injustice.

Nothing says it better than the old greeting of the Christian liturgy: "Pax vobiscum - Peace be with you". "And also with you."

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