I always think of my dad at this time of year. He died Christmas Day 1994 - but this is the time of year that I remember him. He was a soldier - RAF, actually - in the second World War. He flew in planes over Germany, navigating while bombs were dropped - but he never really talked about that part of war. He talked about being a soldier, being part of the war effort, good comrades and the habits of a lifetime he developed when he enlisted (a pack a day habit that ultimately killed him, a love of fine scotch and good books, a hatred of liver, mutton and Brussels' sprouts) - but never about actual war - the "thing" that took him overseas. He always attended the Remembrance Day service - he loved the music and the laying of the wreaths - but he never said much about being overseas, about what took him there, about the feeling of dropping bombs that killed people or even why he enlisted.
He was the fourth child of my grandmother - herself widowed after her first husband went overseas and was killed in the first battles of World War I and her second husband died of strep throat - and I suppose he could have pleaded hardship and stayed home. But that was not like him - he was a man of principal and he felt for Canada the way you hope most Canadians do - if her people were called on to serve, then he was going to be there to help in whatever way he could. I think it left him with some ghosts - ones he never really talked about, except if you came in late at night, after some teenage revelry and he was unable to sleep. Other than that, it was just part of his make-up - but all his children inherited his need to serve and help where-ever their skills took, and take them, and I like to think that that was one of the best things he could have given us. By serving, our communities, the individuals we serve and ourselves as individuals become better - and that was likely part of the reason he signed up and went overseas.
My brother thinks that Remembrance Day should not be a day off - except for those soldiers who served and serve - but I disagree. I think that the day off gives us all a time to reflect - and attending a service at the local cenotaph or war memorial, or listening to the service from Ottawa reinforces the things we take for granted - our freedom, living in a land of opportunity, even the political system we often despise - because despite all the negatives about Canada, we are a land that gives hope and opportunity to all of her citizens, whether they were born here or came here. So today, I pause and think about all of this - and I think about my dad as a young man forced to grow up sooner than most young men today, but how he took that as an opportunity to contribute to a cause that was bigger than him and could have gone bad in so many ways. And I hope and pray fervently that my children will never be asked to make that type of contribution - but that their contributions will make a difference to their worlds and that they will always know peace.