Mark Hammer

Like you folks, stateside, we have a National Public Service Week here in Canada. It’s well-intentioned I suppose, but there is nothing particularly inspiring about it. I imagine some of that results from the concurrency of it. In other words, “I was working for you last week, and you and everyone else ignored my role/efforts or took them for granted, so what makes THIS week so special?”. I don’t want that to sound sour or cynical. Rather, it illustrates how difficult it is for something to be “special”, when there is an ongoing history of minimal acknowledgement surrounding it. Specialness is hard to achieve without distance.

In contrast, remembering veterans has history behind it, not to mention solemnity (which public service recognition would not have). While not all vets, a disproportionately high number of vets have had something happen to them which can be comfortably categorized as “sacrifice”. It could be their life, their limbs, their physical mobility or health, their peace of mind, their family functioning, some alternate future they might have pursued, or something else. Not sure what public servants “sacrifice” that might require such recognition.

Twenty odd years ago, I was driving an old beat-up car from one coast to the other, and in the middle of nowhere in Montana (which has an awful lot of that!), the car died on me, and I had to perch myself on the bumper in the August heat, with a cardboard sign indicating I needed assistance, while I watched the RVs and motorcycles pass me by. Ten minutes later, a state patrol pulled up, checked me out, and was kind enough to give me a boost, verify my car was working well enough, and send me on my way. While parting, I smiled at the officer, and said “On behalf of myself, and many others of my ilk, I’d like to thank you and humbly apologize for the lie we have perpetrated all these years: there IS a cop around when you need one.” He smiled and took it in the spirit it was offered. I’d rather have the intermittent thanks like that than any sort of public recognition day.

On a more somber note, one of the very best, if not THE best, depictions of veterans I have ever seen in film was these few minutes in David Lynch’s beautiful and moving film “The Straight Story”. Takes a couple minutes to get into it, but well worth the wait. Two old guys, having a beer in a dimly-lit bar in the middle of the afternoon, quietly spilling secrets to each other. If it doesn’t get you where you live, I don’t know what will. There’s old guys like this in every corner of the nation. They don’t talk about it. They’d rather not remember it, or at least overlook the details. But we need to remember they walk among us, and give them the dignity they deserve. It may not have required all that much courage for that sacrifice to have occurred, but took a lifetime of courage thereafter to be good to others, and not to break down under the weight of memory. That’s why there’s a Veterans’ Day and no Public Servants Recognition Day.