Remembrance Day: Why Stillness Matters

Image: David Erb

Image: David Erb

Early in my teaching career, I joined two colleagues on a summer-time trip to Europe to visit the battlegrounds and grave sites of the First and Second World War. This trip had a huge impact on me, both personally and professionally. At the time, I was new to teaching and despite a four-year history degree, my war knowledge was less than impressive. Driving in our rental car through the French and Belgian countryside changed everything for me. We stopped at countless Canadian war cemeteries, Vimy Ridge, Ypres, Dieppe and Normandy (among other battlegrounds) and spent hours in silence as we weaved our way through gravestones and memorials trying to imagine and comprehend all that had taken place so many years ago.

I remember one day on that trip when I looked out over the pock-marked fields and tried to imagine what it would have been like on November 11, 1918, when the armistice was signed and the deafening noise of constant barraging had ceased. I imagined an incredible stillness falling over the battlefields; like a collective exhale from soldiers and loved ones alike. 

Today, it is almost 100 years into the future, and we live in a world where stillness is a rare commodity. Our days are full and busy and it can feel challenging to tap into the stillness needed to really reflect on where we have been, and where we want to go. 

Perhaps this is why I love Remembrance Day so much. Beyond the meaning that I found during my tour of the battle sites, a big part of my love for this day is that it is a once-in-a-year opportunity to pause and show gratitude for our nation. For me, the day is also a recalibration of sorts, a reminder of the role that I must play in making this world a more tolerant, equitable and peaceful place. 

On Remembrance Day we have the opportunity to be still and remember who we are as a country and where we have come from. It is time to reflect on how fortunate we are to live in a place that is free and democratic and offer our silent gratitude to those who have sacrificed their lives in service to this country. In our stillness, we are making the statement that nothing is more important than this moment. It is a shift from doing into being, and a true sign of respect. In those two minutes of stillness and silence, the incessant need to move and do subsides and we touch upon a connection that unites us as a nation, through time and space.

So this Remembrance Day at 11:00am, consider choosing stillness over doing. For just a few minutes, choose to park your car, sit back in your chair, close your computer, or attend a ceremony. Take a moment to pause, reflect and express silent gratitude for where we have been as a country and the sacrifices that have been made along the way. 

After all, being Canadian means a life of relative privilege, freedom, and harmony.

A fair trade for two minutes of stillness, I think.