I remember visiting the National War Memorial two years ago. The skies were a fittingly sombre shade of grey and the air was damp and cold. It was the type of cold that made even Ottawans—so used to the bitter northwest winds which rip down from the northwest along the Ottawa river before slamming against the bluffs on which our government, and the cenotaph, sit—shiver and crave heat.
I remember listening to the 21-gun salute. I remember the echoes of the explosion bouncing off of the walls of the Chateau Laurier and the National Arts Centre, surrounding the cenotaph as the faint acrid smell of smoke wafted over the huge crowd gathered. I remember thinking: this is the closest we'll ever get to seeing war in our land; Lord have mercy on those who hear these sounds and cannot sit quietly knowing that the guns are filled with blanks and aimed away from them.
I remember the prayers that were said at that day. Not their content, mind you. They were, as is to be expected at such national events, rather watered down. They lacked both the extreme sorrow and the fiery passion of prayers that were no doubt uttered by Canadian men and women as they fought and died.
No, I remember musing on the base assumptions that allowed those prayers to be broadcast. These were particular prayers to Jesus Christ, not prayers to a faceless being in the sky, and they were deemed acceptable in a national, civic theatre. Remembrance Day—perhaps more than any other day in our national calendar—calls out for remembrance of flesh and blood, and that remembrance is most true in its connection to a God who is flesh and blood, a God who also suffered and died.
One of the greatest challenges for our country over the next few years will be to recognize—and display in our remembrance—that Remembrance Day is not when we celebrate ideals. As more and more of the veterans who survived the great and terrible wars pass along to their graves—as their bodies return to dust—the temptation will be to forget their "too solid flesh" and let their memories melt into unembodied remembrance of right ideas. This, I think, would be a disaster.
I wonder if all Canadians, regardless of whether they believe in the Prince of Peace or not, would be best served to take on a eucharistic understanding of Remembrance Day: a day in which we remember and believe. Not in the perfectness of our cause, not in the glories of war, nor even in its tragedies, but in those Canadians and others who suffered and died so that others might live.