Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance of Bums Past

My memories of Remembrance Day go back to elementary school when classes were suspended and we were marched off to the gym and shown grainy film of WWI. We were also exhorted to 'remember' the sacrifice of soldiers who died decades before we were born. There was also a somber minute of silence at exactly eleven o'clock. My mania for counting can't compare to that of the Marquis de Sade, but reflecting now, my habit of taking pause to carefully note the passing of repeated numbers like May 5th, 5:55:55 PM may well date back to our observance of Remembrance Day, and is an idiosyncrasy I remain in thrall to still today.

Another memory from the same period is visiting the larger towns and cities in Southern Ontario. Compared to my home life in countryside, there were many differences of course and one that stood out was the presence of older men, dishevelled,  drunk, loitering in the streets and often panhandling for change. Bums and winos is what we called them. Years later, I came to realize there was another word for these men: 'veterans.' They undoubtedly had experienced the horrors of war, and had failed to overcome them once they returned to civilian life. Strange that we went to such trouble to remember, almost to the point of worship, men who sacrificed their lives in battle. It was all rather vague, like the graininess of old battle footage; even the dead were abstracted to the personage of the unknown soldier. All the while those who had sacrificed their sanity and their place as respected members of society went ignored, stigmatized and scorned.

With the war in Afghanistan continuing today, here's at least one venerable Canadian tradition the government seems determined to preserve.

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