This year, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, what will you remember?
Every year, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we pay tribute to the men and women of Canada who have died in war. Our tribute, typically, consists of two minutes of silence, giving us all a chance to reflect on the cost of fighting. To remember those men and women who have fallen for our country.
But what are two minutes, really? In fact, what is “tribute,” anyway? It seems such a formal word, such an impersonal word for such a personal subject. After all, you cannot hold tribute. It can’t warm you or keep you company. You can’t cradle it in your arms like a newborn child, or feel it resting on your shoulder like someone you love. You can’t spend it, invest it, loan it, or trade it. So what value does it hold to those we’re supposed to be remembering? What good does two minutes do?
I think the value lies in how we spend those minutes. In the thoughts we fill our heads with as the seconds tick by. They could go something like this:
The silence begins. Whether we’re at work, at home, or in the classroom, we look around and see people. Some have their heads bowed. Some have their eyes closed tight. Some cough, or let out long, slow breaths. Everyone wondering …
What are we supposed to be thinking about, anyway? Facts? Our country has fought in many wars. Fact. Many people, men, women and even children have died in those wars. Fact. Perhaps you had a relative once, who died in World War I or II, or in Korea or Iraq or Afghanistan. Fact.
It still doesn’t seem like enough. Facts are not paying tribute. Facts are not remembering. What are we supposed to remember? People died in wars. Why did they die? In most cases, because they were fighting. Why were they fighting? Because someone, somewhere, was oppressing the lives, liberties, or happiness of other people. Because the only way to stop them was for someone to get up, roll up their sleeves, and do something about it. Because “doing something about it” usually meant leaving their home behind, or their family. Their plans, their dreams, their hopes. Their future.
Because “doing something” means sacrifice.
Do you remember what sacrifice looks like? Imagine a man or a woman wrapped in filthy clothing, haggard and worn, standing ankle-deep in snow, or caked in mud, or shielding their eyes from the blazing sun. They’d rather be anywhere but where they are. They’re wishing for their spouses, or their children, or their parents. Hoping they might see them again, yet being doomed to never see them again. But they knew that might happen. They knew what they might lose, but they went anyway.
Now remember what you have. We can call or see most of our loved ones at any time. We can warm ourselves when it’s cold, or cool down when it’s hot. We have all the food we want, all the water we want, all the comfort we want. We have dreams and hopes. We can make plans. We have futures. Everything our fallen heroes had or might have had, they’ve left to us. They gave them up so that we might keep them. That’s what we must always remember.
Our country has fought in many wars. Men, women, and children died in those wars. While they were alive, each and every one had futures. But they gave their futures up so that we might secure ours. Because it’s more than our land or our buildings at stake.
You see, every time someone stands up to fight, every time they lay down their lives for our country, they’re sending a message. A message to tyrants and terrorists anywhere: we have a future. The future is ours, and there’s nothing you could ever do to take it away from us. We’ll give everything we have to protect it … including our lives. That makes us invincible.
So what are we supposed to be thinking about? What are we supposed to remember? It’s less about what we’ve lost and more about what we’ve gained. It’s about having the opportunity to cradle a newborn in your arms, or feel a loved one’s head on your shoulder. So in these final seconds, remember what we have and why we have it. Remember to never, ever take it for granted. Because the men and women who died in war have given it to us. And by remembering what they sacrificed for our country, we can love our country all the more.
That’s what tribute is all about. That’s what you can do with two minutes. That’s the point of Remembrance Day.
You’ll have two minutes to decide.