Observing Remembrance Day
I knew that moving abroad would change the ‘holidays’ for me. My first Thanksgiving was harder than I anticipated and I imagine Christmas will be the same, but other holidays like my birthday and New Years I’m looking forward to spending in Africa as a whole new experience.
Today is Remembrance Day. A day I have respectfully observed since at least my first year in grade school. I never even considered Remembrance Day as a ‘holiday’ that would change for me when I thought about my plans to move overseas.
Today in Malawi was a day like any other, it was a Monday, it was hot, the coffee still sucked and most people were still in the get-back-to-work-slump. But as 10:45am rolled around I pulled up an image of our Canadian flag and the famous poem In Flanders Field. I remembered how on my last day of internship orientation I had visited the parliament buildings in Ottawa.
After coming down from the Peace Tower, I quietly stepped into the Memorial Chamber and before my eyes could even take it all in, my chest felt heavier and the air felt thicker. I stood very still in the Memorial Chamber, silently reading the stone with John McCrae’s poem over and over. I didn’t know what it really felt like to be a Canadian until that moment. There was only a couple of other people in the Chamber with me and they were all British and about the age of my grandparents, they were silently perusing the long lists of names of those who had lost their lives in one of our wars. No one said a word to each other, we just respectfully and quietly observed everything before us.
So, as 10:58 rolled around today, I tried to breathe deeply, and focus on the red and white flag that was my computer screen. I traced the shape of our maple leaf with my eyes over and over again each time starting from a new point on the leaf. The noises from the street behind me were so obnoxious. My coworkers phone rang exactly as I was closing my eyes to observe my moment of silence at 11:00am. All I could here was bantering in Chichewa, then my fellow intern was summoned over to take the call. She was asking lots of questions, trying to confirm the details that are always so illusive here.
I decided I would just read the poem again and again, until the call ended and then I would really put all my concentration into remembering and imagining the bagpipes that would normally give me chills from the moment the first cord would echo. My thoughts on the first world war being nearly 100 years ago… my heart ache for young war brides left widowed… my respect for the veterans and the POWs… every single thought I had was interrupted by someone barging into our office, or a text message on someones desk or music from the street and for the first time in my life on Remembrance Day – I was angry.
I understand that even though we called it a ‘world war’ not every country was involved (and thank God for that). I respect that each country and culture has its own traditions and customs. I guess I just did not realize that for me as a Canadian, Remembrance Day was just as important no matter what soil I stood on.