Remembrance Day Service

Faculty and Staff, Students, Parents and Guests – Welcome!

Today we are gathered together to commemorate Remembrance Day – a memorial day set aside to remember the soldiers  of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty. This service is typically observed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year.

Today, we do our part to remember.  We remember those soldiers – from Canada, but also from around the world, and in particular those Pickering College students – who serve . . . and especially those who in so serving, have given their lives.

We remember them because they, in enlisting, in fighting, in sacrificing and in dying. . . they remembered us.

Back in early September I shared a quotation from George Bernard Shaw with the Senior School students. A part of it said,

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

I thought of those words, as I pondered the familiar words of the poem we hear each year at Remembrance Day – “In Flanders Fields”. Those familiar words are, specifically,

To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.

Both of these images are very evocative to me. Think of the symbolism of a torch – burning bright, lighting the way, carrying fire. A torch is a symbol of hope, of life, of truth, of renewal.

So the poem, despite its sadness, is a poem of hope. It is suggesting that from those who have lost their lives in war we can be passed the fire of a new day and a new optimism. It is suggesting, as Shaw suggests, that we have a duty, a responsibility, as the lucky ones who live on, to not only remember those who died to protect freedom and human right, but to honour them by picking up that torch, by holding up that torch, and through our own actions, through our own courage and determination, that we let that fire burn brightly and light the way – for future generations.

And how should we do that? Well, if we are to learn from those who passed the torch to us, it is not through violence; it is not through war and terrorism. We know now, after too many years, that war and violence only beget more war and violence.

Rather it is by seeking peace, through simple measures, like being more understanding, like listening to others with open mindedness, like being more respectful of everyone, especially of people who are different, like being tolerant of those with whom we may disagree, or fear.

It is by learning that true leadership is not about being the strongest or the loudest or even being more right. It is to learn that true leadership is about character; it is about actions – distinct, momentary actions that collectively define our lives and thus become our legacy; and it is about relationships – about extending a hand or a heart at the right moment to someone who needs compassion, not anger.

If we can each approach our lives like that, each day and in each action we take, we will grasp the torch from the failing hands we are here to remember today and let it burn brightly to create a world of peace, and therefore banish war forever.

That is our task. That is our responsibility. That is our hope.