Today is Remembrance Day and I am thinking back a few years and notice that my perception of the day has changed. Previously I was aware about the day and what it stood for, remembering the service and sacrifice of men and women to protect freedom. But I wasn’t entirely allowing myself to really consider what it must have been like on a personal level. I think it was too difficult to imagine emotions on such a scale.
How could I have known. As little as seven years ago my life was a pretty protected experience with everything going reasonably well. Nevertheless, I thought I knew what physical pain was like. And I was proven wrong. When I was with my wife during labour, I witnessed pain and it made all my experiences appear superficial. I had broken bones, but entire physical exhaustion paired with mental exhaustion certainly is a different beast.
I thought I understood desperation. We can observe desparate people every day if we choose to not close our eyes, but observing does not compare to understanding. Right now we can watch desperation unfold in the Philippines, but it is a different story watching it from a safe distance on TV or being affected in the middle of it.
I had been angry before, but I really had no concept of what real anger means. Little did I know about this feeling and how consuming it can become, how much it can overpower everything else and feel like a volcanic eruption that is just trying to find a way out.
I thought I had been scared before, but death taught me a lesson. Although I might not be afraid of death, I am afraid of how I might die and what happens to my loved ones when I am gone because surely it will be harder for them than for me. Don’t get me wrong: no one should die of an unnatural death, neither during war or due to illness. But for the person who dies any potential suffering ends and most religions paint a rather lovely picture of an afterlife without pain and being reunited with loved ones. My intention is certainly not to devalue people who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It feels though that survivors pay a high price, too, because they have to learn to live with the experience, having sacrificed so much during the process. They carry the scars – visible and invisible – every day, be it Remembrance Day or not.
I am not sure if I knew what it meant to feel helpless, but now I think I have a better idea about it.
I never thought I would feel empty, kind of devoid of every other emotion, but I had to add that to my repertoire.
And even after all these new experiences I will likely never get close to what others must have experienced during wars when all hell broke lose. And I am very grateful that I hopefully will never have to reach that level of understanding. Bereaved parents often mention a loss of “naivity” in their lives and that one never can get back to the simple trust and confidence that everything will be fine. Moreover, perspectives in life are adjusted and some things that might have mattered previously become utterly unimportant. What must veterans be thinking when they see people being concerned about banalities?
On the other hand I have learned how deep of a bond shared misery can form. At a recent event to remember our children a speaker said something along the lines of “here the things that are so hard to put into words are simply known” which is very true. There is no need to explain how one is feeling, instead there is a silent understanding of the pain. I assume it might be similar for veterans when they get together.
In any case, today I am not simply saying “lest we forget” because it is the right thing to do. I am saying that I have no way of knowing how a veteran might feel because without having gone through it, it is impossible to know. I will not claim to understand challenges and hardships survivors might be going through or the grief that family and friends feel for the ones who died. My personal experience might give me some idea, but I might not at all comprehend the full extend. I do and I will continue to remember, that I know. I have the utmost respect for every person who puts their life on the line to protect others, during war and peace, far away or at home.
Like with every awareness or remembrance day, a lot of attention will culminate on a single day and it might be hard when difficult memories get jerked to the forefront without escape. Might veterans experience this day similarly to how bereaved parents feel about Christmas or other holidays? It just happens to you, if you are ready for it or not. I don’t know… A day to recognize pregnancy and infant loss and to show support for affected families feels important to me and I assume it will be the same for veterans, i.e. that they will appreciate a day that honors them. It might be a difficult day for them, but certainly important. At the same time this attention comes quickly and it ebbs off quickly, but for the people affected it is a lifelong event. Let’s not forget that either.