Earlier this week I caught a snippet from a CBC panel discussing Canada’s strengths as a global power and what our leaders strategy for the future should be. All the usual conversational suspects made an appearance; exporting our health care expertise, innovation, pioneering alternative energy, smart resource management etc. But I think they all missed the mark and the true source of Canada’s strength could be found two weeks ago, right here in the nation’s capital.
I’ve long suspected that the greatest thing about Remembrance Day, a day I will always argue is the most significant day of the year, is the quiet yet magnificent truth it reveals about both Canadians and the nation they call home. The truth had always eluded words, hiding somewhere deep in my marrow and my blood, an understanding keenly felt but never articulated. Until this year.
Perhaps it was because the War Cenotaph was turning 75 years strong or perhaps it was because this year marks a full century since the beginning of the Great War. It may have been because a few short weeks ago the War Memorial was tragically baptized by the blood of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he stood guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, reminding an entire nation of the importance vigilance and liberty plays in our freedom. Perhaps it was a little of all of them or none of them at all, but as the somber ceremonies unfolded the realization dawned on me that on Remembrance Day, both Canada and those privileged to call her home are at our very best.
I was just one among the tens of thousands attending the annual ceremonies at Ottawa’s War Memorial to pay my respects to Canadian veterans, just one among thousands thanking them for the price they paid so that we may enjoy living in one of the greatest nations on the planet. But as I stood there, listening to the songs and the prayers and the poems, as I applauded the parades and bowed my head in mourning reflection, I finally understood the truth about the precious marriage between November 11th and the Great White North, whose strength and freedom were purchased by those who are honoured on that sacred day. I finally understood that Remembrance Day is what makes Canada great. From the very old to the very young, thousands of people spread across a handful of generations came. People of all colours and ethnicities and believers from all faiths as well as those who believed in none at all came. They clogged the streets and filled the square, but still they came with little or no complaint. They all raised their voices in singular praise and thanks for the warriors who had fought and fallen for them. All eyes looked to the heavens as jets raced across the golden autumn sky in salute and all voices joined together to proudly sing Canada’s anthem. Polite applause was offered for the politicians and the visiting dignitaries but thousands upon thousands of hands summoned a chorus of thunder for Silver Cross mother Gisele Michaud (whose son was slain in Afghanistan) and the legions of veterans who paraded by with dignified pride. There were no differences, no pettiness or bigotry, no one cared what language you or your ancestors spoke or who you voted for in the last election or who your favourite hockey team was. On Remembrance Day, for a handful of fleeting moments, we are the people we can be; we are the country we always have the potential to be. Because when we celebrate and honour our veterans, both Canada and Canadians are at our very and absolute best.