Offering thanks and remembrance isn’t that difficult

Someone paid for your rights and freedoms—remember that!

Previously published as Opinions article in The Other Press. November 11, 2014

It’s often easy for us to take for granted the rights and freedoms we enjoy in Canada. Many of us are quick to complain about something which, in the larger sense, is insignificant compared to the hardships people from other countries face.

Some months ago, at a Royal Canadian Legion in Vancouver on karaoke night, I stepped out to get some air. It was nice to be alone with my thoughts, but an elderly gentleman who wanted to tell me a joke interrupted my quiet reflection. My initial thought was that he was approaching me to see if I would dispense with some pocket change or a cigarette, but this all changed when I saw him go inside the Legion. I followed him back in and realized that the man, along with another elderly gentleman, was sitting at the table right next to mine.

He waved me over, and we engaged in conversation. He complained about the Harper government and how Canadian society was growing increasingly unfair. His friend shared the same sentiment. Not long after this rant, both had revealed that they were veterans—the man I had first met, from the British Royal Navy, the other from the Canadian Forces.

I’d continue to provide an ear for these veterans to vent and soon the time would come for me to sing my marquee karaoke song. I stood up, shook hands with the men and, without thinking, blurted out “Thank you for your service.” It felt unnatural for me to say at first, and I thought I sounded ridiculous.

For these veterans, however, it was an acknowledgment. Throughout the year, there are days commemorating the service of military men and women in Canada, but rarely are they ever recognized without a uniform or in public. For both of these men, battle-hardened by combat in the Korean War six decades before, a simple “thank you” was enough to get one of them a little teary-eyed.

I’ve never worn my country’s uniform, but my father has. He’s immensely proud of his time in the military, and although he has never seen combat, he deserves some recognition for his willingness to defend the rights and freedoms we enjoy today.

Being a soldier is not an easy or safe job. A few weeks ago, in St. Jean and Ottawa, we were reminded of that. Even within the safety of our own borders, Canadian servicemen and women still face dangers simply for wearing the uniform and for making a commitment to keep us safe, strong, and free. They fight so that we don’t have to, and there isn’t any other scenario where a word of thanks could be more worthy.

So, come Remembrance Day, I know I’ll be showing my gratitude in the small way that makes our veterans feel appreciated. They have sacrificed so much for us, and we owe them much more than we could ever give them.

All that is expected of us is to do the decent thing, give thanks, and remember. You can do that at the one of many Remembrance Day events across the country.

Can’t make it to a Remembrance Day event? Why not drop by your local Legion branch, get yourself a beer, sing your favourite tune, and spend a couple of minutes, as I have, listening to these heroes. You’ll learn something, even if it’s only the punchline to a joke you’ve never heard.

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