It seems cliché to reiterate every year how lucky we are that people throughout this nation’s history were willing to risk their lives for the greater good. It has become an automatic reflex to repeat “lest we forget” and “I remember” each November 11 without any second thought to what that really means. Us non-combatants are indeed lucky to only have to think of not forgetting and remembering from afar, knowing only what to remember from what others have told us. To live inside the mind of a veteran is something unfathomable to me, no amount of imagination will ever come close to life on the battlefield.
Attending the Montreal Remembrance Day ceremony on the grounds of McGill University gave me a grain of understanding, yet nothing close to the truth. The air was cold and the field muddy. The slight breeze was enough for the trees to loosen their leaves over the somber ceremony, the scene later enhanced by the sun peaking through the clouds as the bagpipes played. At 11am, a howitzer fired with a thud no one around was ready for, signalling the beginning of a two minutes of silence. People often compare the explosion of fireworks to what it must be like in a war zone, but one shot of the gun and those perceptions die. The gunpowder exploding in the barrel is enough to send a person into shock, being at the receiving end of payload is outside of my realm of emotional comprehension. The 21 shots reverberated in my bones, each delivering a new feeling and a new thought.