In America there is a strong level of support for those who serve in the military. Having lived through the Vietnam War era, I can only say I’m thankful we learned the lesson of supporting those who risk their well-being on our behalf, regardless of whether or not we agree with the politics of the situation.
I think because we speak the same language and share so many aspects of our respective cultures, many Americans don’t tend to think of Canada as actually being another country. Even so, from time to time someone asks me what it’s like to move to another country which gives me an opportunity to focus on how living in another culture, even one located as nearby as Canada, stretches my perspective. I find as I live here that there are still things we could learn from our Canadian neighbours about remembering and honouring sacrifice.
Even before Halloween arrives, you start to see them everywhere. Pinned to lapels. Painted on signs. Added to television network logos. Small red flowers made from felted paper are the most common version. You can find them available for a small donation near the cash registers in coffee shops, liquor stores, grocery stores and restaurants. You see them on people of all ages and all backgrounds. People whose families have been in Canada for generations, and people who just immigrated, are equally likely to wear a poppy.
Along with many other countries, every year on November 11 Canadians commemorate Remembrance Day. Again this morning, Tim and I watched the live broadcast from Ottawa of the annual ceremony. There are many things Americans would readily recognize, the gathering of veterans, current duty servicemen and women carrying flags and assisting dignitaries, choirs and bands performing the national anthem. Then there are the Canadian specific characteristics. The national anthem is sung in English and French. Prayers are given in English, French and one of the First Nations languages, today the Maliseet Language. There are no speeches by politicians, although the politicians are in attendance. There are far more people wearing kilts. The first wreath is laid by the representative of Queen Elizabeth.
I think what stands out to me most each year is the way the desire to honour veterans and their sacrifices is shared across generational, socio-economic, cultural and political boundaries. Perhaps the fact that a Canadian who died in World War I wrote the famous poem that inspired the poppies plays a key role in instilling this attitude into the culture. I have many American friends who are consistent and passionate in their support of veterans, servicemen and women, and their families. I’m certainly not trying to set one country against the other in their care and concern for their veterans. I’ve just appreciated the way Remembrance Day is a collective experience here. The image I think best conveys this comes at the close of the Remembrance Day broadcast, and is replicated at local memorials and cenotaphs across the country. After the numerous official wreaths have been placed and the formal ceremony has ended, all the people in attendance take those little red flowers they’ve been wearing on their hats and lapels and lay them on the tomb of the unknown soldier, as if to offer comfort by wrapping a blanket of crimson around the shoulders of those who’ve sacrificed so much.