Mark Hammer

On the one hand, having a designated “day of remembrance” seems like the right thing to do, and in keeping with a range of other observances. On the other hand, I cast my mind back to my own school days, including university, and there was something about everybody stopping everything, everywhere, at the same moment – the stark interruption of a “normal” day – that seized one’s attention. It was the idea that both peace and war take place in the middle of everyday lives – that those engaged in combat were thrown into the middle of more grave matters while we were brushing our teeth, watching cartoons, shopping for groceries, or doing our homework – that gave the message of the day that much more impact.

It wasn’t always the sort of thing that would have that impact on schoolchildren. I remember well one assembly in high school when a formation of fellow students in various uniforms came marching down the aisle in the gymnasium holding flags on poles out in front of them. They all turned 90 degrees at once, briskly, as practiced, but the tip of one of the flagpoles caught the hat brim of the boy scout in front, and sent it sailing across the gym, and some 1500 students, like a Frisbee. As you can imagine, despite the teachers’ and principal’s best efforts, the school assembly was squandered that year. No one would ponder sacrifices, only the silent vision of the felt spaceship gliding 30 feet, and the laughter that followed.

Days of observance that result in a long weekend also have a habit of not resulting in observance, but turning into an opportunity to do something else. One would hope that Veteran’s Day (Remembrance Day, here in Canada) would turn into an opportunity to engage, and not an opportunity to get away. With school “out”, what would school children do? What would their experiences be on such a day? Would they all be taken by their parents to commemorative ceremonies? Would they hear stories of loss from vets? Or would it be akin to a snow day, where you don’t have to go to school?

As an adult, I now work a few blocks over from the national War Memorial, where the annual televised ceremony takes place, and wreaths are placed by the PM, and other dignitaries. If it was a regular working day, I’d stroll over for the ceremony, and then walk back to work. But it’s a day off, so I turn the vacuum cleaner off just before 11:00, turn the TV on, watch the ceremony, and then go back to vacuuming, cooking or whatever, a half hour later. The same degree of observance? I don’t know.

So I’m kind of torn. Staying open allows for the deliberate interruption of normalcy, and the assurance that some sort of observance is undertaken. It would allow for vets to visit schools and talk to students. But it would also allow for observances to be a shambles, or pale imitation of what was needed. And at the same time, remaining open just doesn’t seem like “enough”.