Whether you call it Remembrance Day or Veterans Day, November 11th has always be a profound day for me. From the age of ten, as a Navy League cadet, through high school as a Air Cadet and into my university years at Royal Military College, I took part in ceremonies in cities across Canada. While it wasn’t always easy to get up and stand outside (particularly on a cold Ottawa day), I always felt honoured to take part.
But for me, the true power of the day didn’t occur during the two minutes of silence at 11 o’clock as we remembered the men and women who have served—and continue to serve—our country during times of war, conflict and peace. Rather it can afterwards at the Legion halls as I shared a hot chocolate—or a whiskey—with the men and women who have sacrificed for our country. Hearing their stories first-hand gave me appreciation of their experiences.
Their ‘war stories’ were not the stereotypical glorification of battles. They didn’t even talk much about what they endured, or about the brothers and sisters they lost. Often times their most interesting stories didn’t occur on the battlefield, but years afterwards as the returned home, raised families and followed their careers, and continued serving their communities.For these veterans, war wasn’t something to be either glorified or forgotten, but to be learned from and applied in other ares of their lives.
Thus, it wasn’t the details of their experiences that have stuck with me, but rather the power of the human will and spirit they reflected. When they returned home, these veterans would have had every right to walk away and say “I’ve served my country; time for somebody else to step up.” The veterans I remember most didn’t use their service as an excuse. They use it as a launching pad to continue serving their community. They used their stories to create awareness; they used their leadership skills to coach sports, lead community groups, or run for office; they used their tenacity to start businesses to provide services and create jobs.
Whenever I have been defeated, or endured set back, I don’t dwell on what I have lost. Rather, I reflect on what I have learned from veterans and focus on how I can use the negative experience to strengthen my next endeavour. On the flip side, when I have enjoyed success, I remember that we are never done serving our communities and begin looking for the next opportunity to engage. This is why I remember. Not to glorify war, or celebrate sacrifice, but to strengthen myself and my resolve to improve my community.
So today, after you spend time remembering the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country, why not head over to you local Legion? When you are they, buy a veteran a coffee or whiskey and chat for a while. You’ll not only learn more about them and their experiences, you will learn more about what humans—including yourself—are capable.