I grew up in Texas where Remembrance Day is called Veteran's Day. I grew up in a time of relative peace, so it was not as poignant and relevant a day as it certainly is now. It was a forgotten holiday, really.
When I came to Canada in 1990, I was mystified by the poppies until a few patient Canadians explained it to me. And then I made the connection to Jim McCrae's In Flanders Fields, a poem I was required to memorize in 7th grade history class. It was this poem that taught me about dramatic reading and performance -- that poetry was not simply rhyme, but phrasing and intimacy and breath.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Through the years, most of the places that I worked in Toronto asked that we observe a moment of silence. Typically an awkward moment of silence when phones still rang and emails still pinged and minds still chattered.
It was not until I worked at a company called ICE (Integrated Communications and Entertainment) that I appreciated the poignancy and welcome ritual that Remembrance Day could bring to the workplace and create a truly unifying, respectful and grateful experience.
At ICE, about 10 minutes prior to 11:00 AM, a few "war tunes" were played over the intercom; I remember Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy in particular (we were housed in an old brewery in downtown Toronto with four floors, so you heard this echoling throughout the entire building). Then an historic announcement about the armistice was played and annoucements by some historical figure or another. Then In Flanders Fields was read. And then began the moments of silence. Finally, they came to a close with the playing of Taps.
Phones still rang and email still pinged during this time, but it wasn't an awkward silence. Because we had gone to the trouble of setting context and presenting the conflicting emotions that run through us on Remembrance Day. Joy at the end of a terrible war. Sorrow for all who were lost (and who we continue to lose). Gratitude for sacrifices that those of us who didn't go will never really understand.
I'm grateful for this experience at ICE because I take the memory and the power of it with me to each new workplace.
I came across this video on Teena's site. Very powerful. And it speaks to why we need to take the time, awkward or not, to acknowledge those whom Remembrance Day honours.
Photo Credit: Halifax Cenotaph by jercraigs