This is the Life: Lest we forget

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This Friday, we set aside time to remember those who have served our country. Many, probably most, of us, find it inconceivable that we could put our lives on the line to face an enemy bent on destroying us, or our allies. But a select few do just that, and have done ever since a ragtag assortment of immigrants and First Nations people found a way to organize themselves into this country.

For me, Remembrance Day is more than just an acknowledgement of those who fought, and too often died, for their country. It is an opportunity to reflect on the great fortune that Canadians have, most by the simple stroke of luck that had us born in this country.

None of us chose to be born here — our parents made that choice for us. Think about what it might be like to have been born in Rwanda, Haiti, Somalia, Afganistan, Pakistan, Libya or Iraq. The key difference is that our parents, or their grandparents, or some folks in our ancestral past, had the courage, the opportunity and the desire to come to this resource rich, environmentally and geographically challenging land that offers opportunity that most of the rest of the world’s population can only dream about. If they can imagine it at all.

The majority of us who were born in Canada have never experienced warfare, and those who have were sent to battle on behalf of people whose values we share. We have few Korean War veterans left to give us personal stories about the horrors of war and even fewer who served in the Second World War. Most Canadian Armed Forces personnel in the past 50 years have found themselves in the middle, as peacekeepers, of sides determined to kill each other and I occasionally wonder if one role is worse than the other. Did troops going off to save the world from Hitler have an easier (it’s a terrible word to use in this context, but the best I can come up with) time of it than those who dodged bullets and bombs as Serbians fought it out with Croatians? I have no idea. And I’m grateful that I don’t.

My maternal grandfather fought the good fight in the Fist World War as a young Englishman. His lungs were damaged by the mustard gas that was used against the Allies and his life was made even more difficult because he immigrated to Canada afterward and went to work in the coalmines of the Elk Valley. I will never forget the sounds as he struggled to breathe in his final hours. Like many of his comrades, Grandpa Bath never talked much about his war experiences. He entered the army as a youth, came out as a man, and somehow had to find a way to cope with the horrors he had experienced.

My other personal connections to the realities of war are tenuous. Grandpa’s son served in the navy in the Second World War, but he didn’t see much in the way of fighting. And my dad, too young to sign up until the war was nearly over, served a couple of years in the Air Force without ever facing the prospect of going to battle.

Today, some of us might have political issues with our recent shift from being a peacekeeping country to a peacemaking one, largely because history shows us that the bad guys often started out as good guys, at least from our point of view. We don’t have to look hard to find tyrants and despots who we once considered to be democrats and freedom fighters.

But this Friday, on one of our most somber of days, we put aside politics and give thanks. Not just to those who sacrificed their lives in the past, but those who continue to step forward and volunteer their services in the present, knowing full well that their turn could come at a moment’s notice. Remembrance Day serves as a reminder that those who serve do as they are directed by our government, and that we should never forget it is not them who decide whether and where to fight. They deserve only our support and our thanks.

I’ll be thinking, too, of the men and women who serve us in Canada: police, firefighters, medical personnel, search and rescue volunteers — the list goes on and on. Each in their own way work to keep Canada a country that, for whatever its faults, is the best place in the world to live.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.