Adrienne: As we move further and further away from the great conflicts of the 20th century… Remembrance Day may lose its meaning for some. Our Wellness Columnist, Scott McPherson is here to tell us what the day means to him… and how we can honour our veterans– fallen and still with us– well beyond November 11th. Hi Scott.
Scott: Hi Adrienne.
Adrienne: Now, both of your parents are WWII veterans, Scott?
Scott: Yeah. My Mom served here in Canada. And my Dad was in Europe. At the end of the European campaign, Hitler was on the run, and Dad was mustering to head towards Japan when the bomb on Hiroshima was dropped.
Adrienne: So Remembrance Day is especially meaningful in your family…
Scott: For sure. And not only for our immediate family. Like many families, my parents also had several brothers and sisters that also served, some for full careers. I also had one uncle who was on Dunkirk Beach, another spent four and a half years in a POW camp. For my parents, it’s the most important and personal holiday of the year. In fact, this year will be the first one that Dad and I have not been together at the cenotaph for the services. Normally he would watch or march at the Butterdome.
Adrienne: Have your parents given you any special insights into their war experience that has affected how you celebrate Remembrance Day?
Scott: They both saw their towns lose plenty of young men, so Mom just wanted us kids to show proper respect, which is understandable. Dad was more philosophical. He saw guys were getting off ships and trains, coming home with missing limbs, or blind, or deaf, or suffering from PTSD. Any romance about signing-up disappeared after guys started showing up looking like that. That’s why Dad surprised me when I was six, when I asked him I should try to see all of that.
Adrienne: What did you ask him?
Scott: I wanted to know if we should be sad all day. To honour all the soldiers who never came home. So Dad kneeled down and explained how he felt about it, and what he thought I might want to do. And it felt like the sort of thing that a lot of people would benefit from hearing about.
Adrienne: What was his advice?
Scott: He told me that, while we were there, at the commemoration, at the cenotaph, that we should really think about what all those boys and men lost. He reminded me that I’d never have been born if he hadn’t made it out. I wouldn’t even exist. And that everything I would do after about 18 years old, would be things none of those boys would ever get to do. He wanted me to really feel that. To let that sadness be inside me, really deeply.
Adrienne: But based on what you’ve said so far, it sounds like there was another message for the rest of the day? After the cenotaph?
Scott: Yeah that’s where he really surprised me. Because he told me that it was important that I was not sad for the rest of the day, or the year. Because if we took the freedom that they paid for with their lives, and we spent our lives being sad, or angry, or if we complained all the time, then Dad saw that as the greatest dishonour to their sacrifice. He told me I had to find ways to create enough happiness and peace for me and for those boys who never got those years. And that I should do that for the whole year. He didn’t think any of them would be happy if they knew they’d died only for us to waste our time being miserable. The freedom they were fighting for was for our opportunities. So if we don’t use them to create happiness, or to enjoy life, or to feel rewarded by helping others, then they really died for nothing.
Adrienne: So, for your Dad, Remembrance Day is almost like New Year’s?
Scott: Yes! It’s a somber time. But one where we can use it to renew our commitment to leading a good life.
Adrienne: Do you find yourself remembering Remembrance Day well beyond November 11th?
Scott: I do. During the year, if I’m having a tough day and I’m whining about it, I’ll remember that I could be some terrified 18 year old in a mud-soaked, freezing trench, surrounded by fallen friends and exploding shells. That was a very real experience for way too many young people, on all sides of conflict. And that comparison, to whatever my problem is… the truth is, it always seems so pathetic that I can never hold onto it. A load of lost work on a computer can feel really maddening while it’s happening. But I just can’t suffer for long before some mindfulness has me remembering that I have a duty just like those soldiers did in WWII. So I imagine those men watching me whining. And I just feel pathetic. It really does feel like it’s hugely disrespectful, and that always helps me be more accepting of whatever’s going on. Then, I can go back to whatever I was doing, but I do it with a way better attitude.
Adrienne: So is there a way our listeners might be able have Remembrance Day make their year better?
Scott: Yeah. The first thing we need to do during the services, is to really think about what it would be like to be one of those people. Some time with the first few minutes of Saving Private Ryan can help bring that home for a lot of us. And then we have to re-remember that memory again, when we’re feeling like life’s being too hard. And that can be tough to do. Because when we’re in pain, we often don’t want to be saved. We’ll often want to fight our way out if it. But we’ve got to go to this comparative thought instead. We have to remind ourselves of how bad life can really get. Because even when we’re unlucky, we’re generally still a lot luckier than the average trench in WWII. So as much as I’ll cry at the 11:11, at the cenotaph; for the rest of the year, we really do need to remember to enjoy our lives if we want to earnestly honour the sacrifices made by the people who’ve served on our behalf.
Adrienne: Thank you Scott. Scott McPherson is our Wellness Columnist. He teaches mindfulness at relaxandsucceed.com, here in Edmonton.
For those who may be unaware of it, I regularly have the pleasure of discussing mindfulness practices with Adrienne Pan, the co-host of Radio Active on CBC Radio One. You can listen via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at CBC.ca. We’re normally on a Tuesday 5:20pm, although that can change on occasion.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. For those without audio versions, I will attach a transcript of the column to this post, after its airing.
Today we’ll be talking about how we can turn an intentional, meditative experience on Remembrance Day, into a year-long practice of gratitude.
Consider checking us out. If you’ve never heard the CBC Radio Active show before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. They have a great team.
Take care everyone.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.