Soldiers, war, veterans, the military – all of these were abstract concepts growing up. They were pieces and parts of other people’s lives, other people’s histories, other people’s experiences.
Sure, our Pepere, our mother’s dad, served in the Navy. And yes, our Avô, our father’s dad served in the army. But that was ages ago, long before our parents were married and before any of us were twinkles in eyes (EW).
It wasn’t talked about in great detail. The sepia pictures of them as young men in uniform adorned shelves in their respective living rooms, certificates were brought out sometimes, but the idea, the concept, the reality never ever sunk in for me. It happened then to them. Such a long time ago, such a great distance ago.
In school, Remembrance Day was a time for us to reflect on the sacrifices of others who did heroic things in the name of our freedom that we enjoyed in the present day. History class was filled with complicated explanations of politics that lead to wars that lead to young men and women serving in capacities that are beyond understanding for someone like me who has never had to endure any sort of conflict of that scale. And literature was filled with imagery and emotion and recollection spun in story and portrayed again in a distanced sort of way. Out there, back then, not here, but for us.
And then I met and fell in love with Ben and his family. His military family. The family where most of the men, the majority, the rule not the exception, had served in some capacity in the army. Overseas and here at home; in active duty and in the reserves; in the middle of a war zone far away and training troops a province away; in the past, now retired and presently, currently as I type; fathers and sons; cousins and brothers. It was no longer an abstract concept. It was real. It is real.
When Ben and I got married, his brother-cousin, Nathan, was in the bridal party and almost had to be in his military dress for the ceremony because he may not have had time to get his tux before coming home from training for the wedding. Brother-cousin Olen trained troops in Manitoba and served in other capacities as a reservist. We attended Ben’s cousin, Albert, and his beautiful wife, Becky’s wedding on the military base where Albert was serving (they’re now in Alberta on another base serving in a new capacity). Cousin Chris served in Afghanistan. Both of Ben’s uncles have served and since retired from the military. Both Ben’s brother Todd and his cousin Alex survived basic training and worked as reservists. It is real.
These are not small things, even though they didn’t make headlines and no one is in the middle of a war zone at this very moment. And beyond that there are men and women serving right now in various capacities, in various countries and regions and situations, trying to make a difference, fighting for freedoms that aren’t obviously in danger, helping people shore up against famine, disease, disaster, and political upheaval. Lending hands to the world and serving us at home, away from their families and their homes and their comfort. Dying and living in service. They have been, they are, they will be. And it is real.
Remembrance Day means something more for me now than it used to because I have faces and names to people fighting and fought, serving and served, but the thing is, it should have always meant something because for every troop and their family it is real. Even if you don’t agree with the battle being waged, the reasons for the serving, the government that sent them, or even the people that are being served, it is real.
This year, every year, every day remember that somewhere someone is giving of themselves for a greater something and their loved ones are left behind, sacrificing along with them without them. And that they are not treading a new path. That they are walking in the shoes of all those who fought and served before them. And that they are lighting the way for future service.
It is real. And it is yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Pin your poppy and stand in silence tomorrow, but remember always.
P.S. I know that this video is a Christmas song, but the voices of the troops sending love home makes it real for me over and over again. I pray for the day that they’ll all be home, all at once. I know it’s a fool’s dream, a wish for heaven, essentially, but it’s in my naive heart all the same.