Can we finally start learning and changing from Remembrance Day?

Remembrance Day is always highly emotional for me, increasingly so as I mature, reflect back on my youth and gain new perspective from these memories. So here is my question for readers: Can we finally start learning and changing from Remembrance Day? Yes.

Before anyone tunes out because they think this article is unsupportive of our Canadian Armed Forces, let me first share with you exactly where I’m coming from.

My parents were born in 1927 and 1934 in small‐town Holland, each part of large Catholic families whose fathers were skilled craftsmen. My grandparents had dignity, made enough to support their families, and wanted exactly what most parents want today: to help their children grow up healthy, strong and responsible with the best of what each parent and their community had to offer.

World War 2 changed their lives, along with millions around the globe. Everyone and everything went into survival mode, there was fear everywhere…all the time. The Nazi German occupation brought Holland to its knees through a deliberate process of starvation. My mom’s family had to eat its own cat when there was nothing else; a potato that fell from a farmer’s sack added substantially to that day’s nutrition. Millions of families on both sides of the conflict experienced this to one degree or another, and it scarred them for life. Everyone loses in war, except the bankers and the military‐industrial complex.

New generations were instilled with the fear of scarcity, prejudice, divisiveness and violence. Hope for the future was nearly extinguished, but the human spirit in its purest and most loving form is quite literally invincible. This invincible spark holds the key to the change that my title seeks.

In a recent conversation with a 34 year‐old construction worker who showed up to play pick‐up basketball alongside his brother at the Eau Claire YMCA, I was taken back to my childhood. This young fellow told me the story of how he and his brother and their wives immigrated to Canada four years ago from Latvia, leaving the rest of their families behind. He had a slight smile on his face the whole time, because he feels so fortunate to live here, but his face burst into an ear‐to‐ ear grin when he mentioned that they recently welcomed a new daughter. He could not contain his joy when he said two simple words: “She’s Canadian.” I teared up with him.

In an instant I was transported back in time to my humble upbringing in the Village of Oliver in the South Okanagan. We used to travel across the border to Prince’s in Oroville, Washington just to save a few dollars on groceries – especially eggs and dairy products. Occasionally the U.S. border guard would ask if we were Canadian citizens, and my mom could hardly wait for this question. She would proudly reach into her wallet and pull out her Canadian Citizenship card, grinning from ear to ear; she even made the stoic border guards smile. Both my parents told me repeatedly that the day they were sworn in as Canadian citizens was the proudest day of their lives.

In the summer of 1953, a newlywed Dutch couple named Henry and Cornelia Ruhland boarded a crude passenger ship headed for Canada. They spoke only their native language; they had little money in their pockets and had no idea what they were in for. They came to Canada only for a fresh start and opportunity, not for hand‐outs. They had learned that Pier 21 in Halifax, Canada was their destination only a few weeks before. In their social circles, everyone agreed to that they had literally won the lottery. They got to start a new life in the land of heroes, with space and peace.

Many people from many nations sacrificed their lives and health to stop the genocidal insanity of the Nazi’s, but it was the Canadian soldiers who did the dirty work on the Dutch coast in the winter of 1944‐45. They were ill‐equipped but toughened by life north of the 49th Parallel. Many had volunteered because they believed in the cause of freedom, humanity and the evils of racial prejudice. They were all wily, courageous and relentless in their determination to fulfill their mission and return home to their own families, and get back to living.

When Holland was finally liberated in May of 1945, the liberators were Canadians. In Holland, Canadians are still viewed as heroes. They still call it “The Canadian Summer.”

Canadians enjoy a unique reputation globally even today. The men and women and families of the Canadian Armed Forces have earned that reputation quite literally with their blood, sweat and tears. On November 11th, show your respect for their sacrifice, but don’t let it stop there, please. Yes, donate generously and wear the red poppy, but let that be the beginning of the change, not the end.

At this point, you might doubt that you as an individual can make a meaningful difference, but that is simply not true. That’s what the war‐mongers want you to believe, but the truth is that we can all make a difference. Stay with me, because this is important: it starts with all of us individually, with our own relationship with ourselves.

Before healing can begin, wounds must first stop bleeding. This begins with compassion for and forgiveness of yourself and it spreads outward from each of us. Next, we must take coordinated and meaningful actions toward the goal, and this is where big ideas start small and get big very fast. Scientific studies have proven that it only takes the square root of 1% of a given population to change any situation. Here in the Calgary area with our population of about 1 million that means that it only takes about 100 people who focus on changing something to get the ball rolling. Each of you is literally the seed of positive change – you are powerful!

Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world,” so let’s get off our assets and initiate some change in respect of global violence, whose worst form is war. Perhaps this is through your church, a community group, your business or a circle of friends.

Don’t over‐think this, just get started. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It could be meditation, prayer, posting articles like this on social media, starting the conversation with your inner circle and letting the great idea of peace spread like a bad idea. Why not open your heart to that estranged family member or friend?

If you are truly serious about honouring the sacrifice of the men, women and children who died or have been physically and emotionally scarred by the horrors of war, then DO SOMETHING at a personal level to reduce conflict and violence in your own circle. When you reduce your own appetite for conflict and violence of any description you reduce the nation’s appetite for war.

The learning and change that I hope for from this Remembrance Day is that a handful of ordinary Canadians start exercising more enthusiastically the important virtues of compassion, forgiveness and collaboration. Amongst other things, the essence of this amazing country called Canada is compassion and collaboration, innovation and creativity, and tenacity and unrelenting determination in the face of adversity. Are you up for the challenge? I thought so!

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

– Andrew Henry Ruhland