A couple of days ago, I read an article from the Huffington Post stating Edmonton public schools are now allowing students to opt out on attending Remembrance Day services.
It was a decision made by the Edmonton public school board. Reasons cited include personal, family reasons and religious beliefs. An example of such an exemption happened last year, according to another article from the same source, in which a mother had pleaded for her son to skip the Remembrance Day service because his dad was killed in Afghanistan.
As a child, Remembrance Day services did not strongly affect me. I just knew that on the 11th day of November at 11:00, all students were ushered into the school gymnasium where it was transformed from an area of play to a bleak room of rows and rows of chairs. We were warned beforehand by teachers to not clap, laugh, or speak during the entire assembly. Taking our seats, we silently murmured to each other of the mundane tasks that awaited us. We knew what to expect. Soldiers in full uniform, elderly people taking the podium, the predetermined moment of silence, the student choir singing In Flanders Field, and, of course, the Last Post to signal the end of the ceremony. It was just another annual routine to follow. If the same decision had passed in Winnipeg schools when I was still a school age girl, I don't think I would have cared.
I attended my first Remembrance Day service outside of school last year on the corner of Valour Road and Sargent Avenue. I have to say it was a different experience than attending a service in an elementary school. Many things about the service was similar to the ones I've witnessed. However, the most significant and frightening thing that happened that day was something that was not written in the programs handed out.
During the moment of silence, someone fainted.
I had expected everyone to cause a scene and shout for help. That wasn't the case. Bystanders quietly helped the woman up. At the most, they spoke in hushed whispers. They respected and abided by the moment of silence in a situation where I would have deemed it appropriate to screech for help.
Which proves even though I was at a "real" service, I still didn't fully grasp the intensity of this day.
It became real to me that people still relive memories of war and of injustice. Remembrance Day comes to me once a year. To these people, it's never-ending.