Part of the coherent portion of the conversation at the pub this past Friday revolved around Remembrance Day. Several of the people at the table were making plans to meet up for brunch before proceeding to the War Memorial to attend the ceremony. Mostly they are self-employed; one is a healthcare worker.
By contrast, I work for a bank. Particularly, I work in a call-centre for an American bank, and although we fall under the same federal law as regards statutory holidays as the government does, our business needs to remain open. (You and I are free to define “need” differently than it is used here.) Thus, as one of the only two people who can do my job, I have a 50% chance of working on Remembrance Day, whether I like it or not.
This year, I’m working on Remembrance Day.
I’m not doing it for the extra pay (although I’m not protesting the extra pay, by any stretch of the imagination), but I’m also not doing it entirely involuntarily. I have my own personal reasons for going in to work.
When I was a kid, Remembrance Day usually centered around the theme of “Never Again.” The idea behind that campaign was that war was bad (this is apparently still news to some people), and that it should be avoided. Remembrance Day provides us a time and opportunity to remember why this is. War is atrocious. People die. Lives are changed forever. Cultures are wiped out.
That was before 1989 and the (first recent) war in Iraq. That was followed by what William Jefferson Clinton, with a straight face in a serious voice, called “the world’s first war fought on ethical grounds,” the war in Bosnia, and…
Our planet is at war. It’s always at war. I invite you to point out to me an era in history when our planet has not been at war with itself, somewhere.
The other gentleman who shares my job is about seven years my senior, though his sunny disposition and passionate emotion would convince you otherwise. He’s very proud of his son, and has nothing but love for his wife (a poet and former journalist). He regularly goes on break to visit his father, who works at a restaurant in the mall food court.
By the time he was my age, he was already a war veteran.
He doesn’t talk much about his time in the military; just the occasional jovial story about making something interesting explode. It wasn’t a war our country was involved in, but it was a long and brutal war that took place close to civilian population. He and I are close enough that I know he was seriously injured by enemy fire.
If you look in his eyes, you see the unmistakeable look of a man who’s had to kill someone. Everyone I’ve met who’s killed someone at war has had that look; they’ve all also had an incredible appreciation for the sheer joy of life. It’s inspiring, and at the same time heart-rending.
It’s none of my business whether he goes to any ceremony on Remembrance Day morning. I’d be happy if he just spent the day with his family. He deserves to.
Think of all the people who didn’t get to. Who won’t get to.
That’s what you’re remembering for.
And that’s why I’m going to work tomorrow, instead of him.