“We often look at the society we live in [in Canada] as being a peaceful and tranquil place where we can go about our lives. It’s not always evident, except on Remembrance Day, as to how it came about. Taking part in battles, fighting for our freedoms, being involved in peacekeeping missions and working through our international partners such as United Nations, make a more peaceful world as well as a secured Canada. I am thankful every day for that sacrifice, that service – putting themselves in harm’s way to keep our society largely democratic and free. We owe them [veterans] a deep gratitude – it’s up to us to remember that on November 11 that this didn’t just happen. People fought and gave up their lives and were committed to the cause, to see that we live in this age of peace and tranquility here at home.”
-Kent Hehr, MP Calgary Centre and Minister of Veterans Affairs
A blog by Darcy Halber
Since I was little I’ve worn a poppy in the first two weeks of November, pinned to my coat just over my heart. I stood in the Remembrance Day ceremonies in the gym at school while someone read aloud “In Flanders Fields” and our school band played “The Last Post.” I held my minute of silence at that eleventh hour and felt an ache in my heart for those I could never really thank, who sacrificed for a generation they would never meet. I remember wondering if our offering of gratitude was enough.
As I graduated and left school, I would occasionally wear my poppy and sometimes I would remember to go to a Remembrance Day ceremony. I would see the displays in the malls and glance at them as I walked by. Sometimes they would stir me, other days they blended in with the scenery and Christmas decorations. If the T.V. was on and the news broadcasting a ceremony, I would pause on it for a few seconds before moving on.
But despite my vague commitment, every year on November 11th, at that eleventh hour, I remembered my moment of silence and that familiar ache would settle into my chest.
Why, I couldn’t tell you. Or myself for that matter. No one in my family had ever fought in a war. There used to be a military base in the small B.C. town that I grew up in, but it closed and moved up north when I was young. Perhaps it was because of all those years in grade school, when they packed us all into the gymnasium and gave us no choice but to remember and to reflect on those who fought for a freedom we took for granted. Or perhaps it was because my mother, ever a scholar and indignant that it was no longer part of our school curriculum, had us each read Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” in our grade 7 year.
And then two and a half years ago, I met the man who would become my husband. And I knew.
I met a man who enlisted at seventeen years of age, who became part of a Special Operations Unit at eighteen, who deployed when he was nineteen and who turned twenty in the middle of a desert in a country whose people were not free. I met a man who had seen 5 friends die before the age of twenty-one, who at twenty-two had to present a folded flag to the wife of a friend who would never come back and who escorted a fellow warrior’s body to his burial amidst name calling protesters shouting for “peace.”
I met a man who joined for love of country, but who stayed because of the man to his left and to his right. I met a man who came back quieter than he was before he left, a man who accepts thanks, not because he considers himself deserving, but for those who can no longer accept the thanks themselves. Who has good days and sometimes bad days when the memories become too much.
I met a man who helped me understand that ache in my heart for men and women I didn’t know. A man who helped me understand that I felt, not because I truly understand the value of my freedom, but because there were those before me who did. He helped me understand that I mourn for those like my husband who have buried friends, and for those wives who have buried husbands all so that I would not have to.
He helped me to understand that it is not a crime to not truly understand the incredible value of our freedom. How could we? We’ve never had to fight for it.
Someone else did.
He helped me to understand that our crime is not in not understanding.
It is in forgetting.
So remember that your freedom is not free. Hold that ache in your heart and let it help you to remember those we can never truly thank.
And let that be enough.
A blog by Darcy Halber
The Calgary Homeless Foundation thanks those who have sacrificed for our freedom. Homeless veterans are a reality in Calgary. We work hard with our partners to ensure they have a place to call home. To learn more, click here.