My speech from the Hamilton Remembrance Day Ceremony earlier today.
You can hear the speech on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kevin.makins/posts/10155945081588453
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Mayor Eisenberger, City Councillors, Hamilton Veterans, Silver Cross families, members of Government, ladies, gentlemen, children, and Hamiltonians;
I am very grateful, and humbled, to be invited to offer some reflections this Remembrance Day.
When I first received the invitation I assumed there was a miscommunication. When it comes to honouring our veterans, and remembering those we have lost, there are churches, mosques, and synagogues who have been far more directly affected than us. My community, Eucharist Church, is made up largely of younger people in their twenties and thirties, Millennials, few of whom have ever directly been affected by war, most of whom are separated from World War 1 and 2 by multiple generations.
When I mentioned this to the person inviting me, they said that was exactly why they had asked me; to help answer the question: “What does Remembrance Day mean to young people?”
To me, Remembrance Day is sitting on a cold gymnasium floor, gathered for assembly, or my mom helping me pin on a poppy on my shirt without stabbing my finger, or black and white movies with dramatic voice overs. It was the foreign and beautiful sound of the bagpipe, and “in Flanders Field where Poppies Grow,” and two minutes of silence in an otherwise loud world.
Even then, as a child, I knew there was something special about Remembrance Day.
There was something important, even sacred, about this annual rhythm that disrupted our classes, our tests, and even our talking. Once a year, for half an hour, we would look back on our shared history and vow to remember.
But to young, media saturated minds, it can also feel time-less; flat and two-dimensional. For my generation, the First and Second World War lived in the realm of movies, video games and comic books; along with stories of aliens invading Washington and Hobbits delivering the One Ring to Mount Doom. I don’t say this to be crude, or crass, but if I’m being entirely honest, for most of my life, that’s where it lived.
And while I knew that, unlike these other stories, there was a real world cost to the Wars, it was just too far removed from me for it to really take on flesh and blood.
My Grandma, Eileen, is charming, smart, and at 93 years old still regularly beats me in euchre. Five years ago, on Christmas afternoon, I got to sit down and listen to her tell stories of her life, and as she did it was like a whole new world opened up.
We talked about her parents, and how the first world war impacted their lives, and what it was like raising children in the forties and fifties, and how her and Grandpa fell in love.
They met at a dance, in the late thirties, back in the days where people went to dances to actually dance. She told me how he swept her off her feet, and how they started preparing for their future together, and how the war began and interrupted all their plans. For years their dreams were frozen in time; as soldiers, and sailors, air crew and nurses were sent overseas. Others, like my Grandpa, worked in repair shops or mess halls. My Grandma, and the others left behind, struggled to keep the world turning, raising and teaching children, stepping into the work force, rationing food; all the work that exhausts us today, picked up by fraction of the population.
And as Grandma shared these stories with me, something happened inside my heart; the story took on flesh and blood. It was sitting here, right in front of me. These were real men and women, just like you and I, who were swept up into an incredibly complicated and challenging situation; who’s present and future would be forever shaped by war.
Some of those people are standing here today.
This had a rolling effect on me. As her story took on flesh and blood, so did the stories of others; those who lost friend and family in the world wars, those who’s loved ones were sent to Korea, or Afghanistan; the stories of those in our city who have fled from places of war to the safety of Canada.
Real people who had violent conflict thrust on them.
And they responded with bravery, courage, and dignity; with hope and faith. Men and women who willingly picked up their responsibility; sacrificing their plans and future for others.
We need to remember that.
We need to remember loved ones leaving and not returning, we need to remember those who came back haunted by what they had experienced, we need to remember exhausted mothers putting their children to sleep alone, and we need to remember the men and women killed by our soldiers, who’s families and communities were also forever changed by war.
We need to remember how much war took from us. We need to hear the stories and ensure they are retold well. We must stand on guard.
We must continue to guard our memory.
One Christian group I deeply respect is the Mennonite Central Committee; who during this season say: “To remember is to work for peace.”
It would be far too easy for those of us who have not experienced war first hand to sit back and be passive, but true remembrance calls us to action.
“To remember is to work for peace.”
To remember is to guard the peace and health of our marriages, families, and friendships.
To remember is to teach our children that every single person is worthy of dignity and love.
To remember is to stand against bullying and harassment wherever we see it.
To remember is to practice forgiveness, especially when it costs us.
To remember is to be willing to serve our neighbours, even if it interrupts our plans.
To remember is to welcome into our city those who have fled places of war and conflict.
To remember is to continue the process of reconciliation with our First Nation brothers and sisters.
To remember is to ensure safe, affordable housing to those displaced by Hamilton’s revitalization.
To remember is to shape a city where all people can find home, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, economic standing, politics or religion.
To remember is to work for peace.
Today we honour and remember those who have sacrificed so that we might have peace. Today we honour and remember those who have faced the hell of war, whether this year or one hundred years ago. Today we honour and remember those who's hearts still grieve.
We stand with you. We thank you.
May we continue to sit on cold gymnasium floors for assembly, and pin poppies on our jackets, and read “in Flanders Field,” and stand in silence, and listen to the stories told by our loved ones.
May we continue to remember. May we continue to work for peace.