UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
A memorial to the First and Second World Wars near Meersburg, Germany. Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett

Spirit Story

Remembrance revisited

By Anne Simmonds

It’s two in the morning on Nov. 11. My mind fixates on the death, dying and grieving class I will be teaching at Toronto’s Emmanuel College in eight hours.

Because the classroom faces Queen’s Park, site of provincial ceremonies — cannon shots and fighter jet flypasts — I will not be able to ignore the 11th hour of Remembrance Day.

This is not my only struggle. Each year, I dutifully wear a red poppy and stand with reluctance, my mind a battleground for the two minutes of silence. Does Remembrance Day not glorify armed conflict in a world unwilling to rid itself of guns, violence and war?

As I ruminate on how I will incorporate the act of remembrance into the class time, I recall that one of the students, a military chaplain, is already scheduled to present on suicide and complicated grief in the armed services. The solution to my quandary is suddenly obvious: I will ask him to present at the start of class and then facilitate the two minutes of silence at 11 a.m.

His presentation of sobering statistics and stories puts a human face on the military. He tells of a young soldier who, on return from Afghanistan, leaves his bedroom unusually tidy, goes to the armoury and shoots himself by the chaplain’s office. He describes a military culture that understands grief as weakness, where mass casualties are taken for granted. There is little help or reintegration on returning home.

As the clock strikes 11, he leads the two minutes of silence. He reminds us that this precise hour and date is when the last shot was fired at the end of the First World War — the war that would “end all war.”

My heart is opened by his stories. In the silence, I feel my connection viscerally: my grandfather fought in the trenches for four years. He returned at age 23; his buddies did not. He was gentle and loving, yet an aunt recounts the time she asked him about the war. In a completely uncharacteristic demeanour, he replied, “Don’t you ever ask me that again.”

I remember with tears the irony of his death at age 65, in 1961. In Grade 9, a knock at my classroom door summoned me to the office. I was sent home. There I learned that my grandfather, at the bank to cash his paycheque, had been shot during a robbery. He died two weeks later; the date was Nov. 11.

The summer following my class, I spent time in Dresden and Berlin, two German cities that were massively bombed during the Second World War. Both have constant reminders of the horror and human cost of war. Little brass “stumbling blocks” are embedded among the paving stones of Berlin, naming those who lived nearby and were murdered by the Nazis. Both cities also speak to human resilience: cathedrals and other buildings have been reconstructed with remarkable care, detail and beauty.

Visiting these places, I felt grief, but like that day in the classroom, a deeper meaning of Remembrance Day silence is etched into my being. It is not only a reminder of the best and the worst that we are as human beings, but also an opportunity to personally recommit to bring more love into our hurting world.

Anne Simmonds is an adjunct professor at Emmanuel College and lives in Toronto.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

Outrage is the new normal

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


October 2017

Fall from grace

by Justin Dallaire

Don Hume was a United Church minister nearing retirement. Then he tried crack cocaine.


September 2017


by Jane Dawson

Restless longing is at the core of the human condition, urging us onward through life. What happens when it veers off course?


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Promotional Image