Friday, 7 November 2014

What and Why I Remember

When I was 16, I met RJ Cringan. 
He was my music teacher. 
He called m leather lips because I could play the trumpet for hours on end… he taught me to write music, encouraged me to write a musical, made music a part of my life.
Bob volunteered for the infantry in 1943.  Realizing that it takes months to train a soldier, but years to train a musician – they decided to take this musician and have him play for the troops… and so he led the Rhythm Rodeo and toured the bases in Canada and the UK playing for the men and women in service.  
It was Bob who had me play the Last Post for the first time.  It was for a school Remembrance Day ceremony.  He wrote it out for me in his unique musician’s hand;  I have it with me to this day - not that I need it… but it connects me to him.

I think that’s one of the reasons that we wear the poppy: It connects us to those who have shaped our lives… in ways we recognize and in ways that we take for granted.

After I played the Last Post, being a teenager, I decided to jazz it up a little… playing in the Music Room by myself, I would a few riffs, flatten a couple of notes, improve the melody and give it a better finish..  Bob heard me playing and told me to stop.  He was almost angry.
“Leave it alone! It’s not meant to be show stopper… it’s meant to be simple… it’s meant to mourn… and honour.”  
I never fooled around with it ever again.  I always play it the way he taught me.

All me to present some thoughts around Remembrance Day in a similar vein.

My father was born in 1939; he didn't go to war.
I have never been called to serve.
My children have never been called to serve.
To those who have served, “Thank You”.

That’s all any of us who wear a poppy want to say. “Thank You”

The vets who wear the poppy are saying “Thank You” to the soldiers who stood with them, those who fell in battle and those who made it home… Thank You for your sacrifice;  Thank You for standing with me.

The rest of us are saying “Thank you”  to the men and women who have served and are serving: The families at home who worry around the clock;  those who will always remember their child, husband, wife, sister, brother, parent in uniform, because it was the last time they saw them.  The men and women who stayed home and worked new jobs and extended hours to support the country in times of war.  The men and women who came back and didn't know how to fit back into civilian life; the men and women who helped others come “home” and fit in.

 Remembrance Day is a time to mourn.  We mourn those who didn't come home.
We mourn those who didn't get to take us fishing, or see us graduate, come to our wedding… those who might be forgotten if not for one day a year when we remember those who have served.
We mourn those who have come back from active service, but are not the same people who left…  the pain and burden they bear is so great… too much for us to understand, sometimes too much for them to handle.    
We mourn lost youth, because everyone who has served has spent some of their youth on all of us.

We gather on Remembrance day to honour.  I don’t mean that we gather to cheer on the soldiers,  wave the Canadian Flag in victory or glamourize war.  
Honour.  Not imagine or cheer; not celebrate "Canadian" victory.
Most veterans that I know are the biggest advocates for peace:  They don’t want us at war, they don’t want their children at war.  They went to war because their community asked them to go and there seemed to be no other way - but they lived and died in hope that we might find another way.  We honour them as we try to find another way.

Some call them heroes.  I don’t think that they are.    Hero is a term that comes from ancient Greek mythology in which there are Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes.    Gods are… well, they’re gods.  Demi gods are half human half god and Heroes are the humans who aspire to be gods.     The men and women that I know, who have been to war, never aspired to be gods.  
They aspired to be sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and grandparents, comrades and buddies, neighbours and friends;  their greatest desire was to come home and make it possible for all of us to be sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and grandparents, comrades and buddies, neighbours and friends.

I believe this to be true of nearly every soldier under any and every flag.
For the past decade, I have been the bugler at an IBEW community Remembrance Day service.   Some wondered why I would play at an Electrical Workers Union instead of a local Legion. Well, to begin with, they asked me.  Secondly, I admire the work that they do having veterans share their stories with school children and Finally, I admire the fact that many years ago, they opened up their Remembrance Day to veterans of any war, under any flag.  It's about the men and women who have sacrificed, not about the winning of a war.  On Remembrance Day, we recognize that nobody "wins" in war. 

On Remembrance Day,  I think about my father in law, who enlisted because he wanted to fly planes…  he had no idea what it would really be like…and it was horrific.  But he stayed.  1939 to 1945.  He doesn't talk about it much.

I think about family that served in the Navy and Merchant Marine; the Great Uncle who floated I the English Chanel for 24 hours and only complained that he got water in his watch.
I think about the Veterans that I have come to know over the years, the stories that they've told me and sometimes told ONLY me… I think that about the stories that they didn't tell me…  

I think about the young man who asked me to bless his sunglasses on his way back for a second tour in Afghanistan… 

And I don’t try to complicate any of it with debate; I don’t try to fancy it up with politics, agendas or even white poppies.  I just take this time to be thankful and to honour those who have given so much, by striving to find a better way to justice than violence.   
It’s the least that I can do.

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