I am eight. Maybe nine. We are playing, my little friends and I, on a snowdrift at school. For lack of sleds and toboggans, we are using our snow pants as sliding apparatuses. One goes down the slope, and then the other. It’s a cool, crisp winter day. And soon, it’s my turn again. I make a lunge for it and then I fly. I feel the cold beneath my bottom, as winter snow gear makes intimate contact with frozen, dirty ice.
Without any warning, my head jerks backwards. I feel a tug on my hood and then arms grabbing at me from behind. I have no idea why, but my downward descent has just been abrupted. And then I see just in front of my eyes- the tires on a car whiz by. So close, I can feel the breeze. And by breath is taken quite away. I can feel my heart pounding thunder inside my chest.
That’s how close it was. That’s how very close one can find themselves to the very edge of their humanity.
If not for my friend, where would I be today? It is a rhetorical question, because for all I know, these near- death experiences have happened more than I might ever know. What if I hadn’t paused at that red light to check my watch? What if I hadn’t been sick that day? What if I hadn’t gone on that trip? What if? What if?
And the ‘what ifs’ can serve to either comfort or haunt us forevermore.
What if I hadn’t been born in 1974? What if I had been born forty years earlier? What if I had been asked to sign away my life so as to defend my country’s freedom? What if I had been asked to make the supreme sacrifice? To give my life on the front lines, so that those I was there to defend could live to see another day? So that those whom I loved wouldn’t have to fear the enemy?
What if I had been there? What if I had been the one to stare down the enemy? And what if my life had been changed just by one, small detail. Wouldn’t everything be different? What if all of our lives were changed by one decision, one moment in history, one small, miss-step that made all the difference. Wouldn’t everything for all of us be so very different?
We really cannot speak about what we would do or wouldn’t do. We cannot speak from high ideals that transcend place and time and the context of the day. But we can appreciate. We can say thank-you.
Remembrance Day is one part remembering and one part gratitude. Both are equal in proportion to the magnitude of the significance. Without one or the other, there is not as much value. They complement one another equally.
I remember the day my friend saved my life. I don’t know what possessed her to reach out so quickly and catch me before I was crushed under the tires of that moving vehicle. But I do know that it was for a reason. I remember. And I am so very grateful.
In memory of all the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice. They did it so that we did not have to. And it is because they lived it, fought for it and died because of it that we can now today remember and say thank-you for it. May we never, ever forget.