Every year, it seems, I utter the same moan of weariness and displeasure: “Why does everything happen in November?” There’s something about November. After 3.5 hours of solid sleep, I woke up thinking of Father. At first, I was angry and upset, then memories began to trickle through, and I recalled that today is Remembrance Day. It’s the most solemn day for Father. His observation of various religious holidays paled in comparison to how reflective and serious he would be this day.
Father’s legal and true birthdays. Guy Fawkes Night. SS Edmund Fitzgerald. Remembrance Day. The list detailing the importance of Novem stretches onward.
One could say that he was wrong to expose me to horror and terror from various sociohistorical lenses at such a young age. Who would allow a little girl to grow up watching and reading things with mature themes? The Crow. White Squall. Interview with the Vampire. Yearly viewings and frank lectures of the darkness in Shakespearian plays. The early to mid-90s were heavy with somberness. No romanticized fairy tales for me, no, to the brutality of the initial weaving of those tales was where I had to go. No reading material in my house could be called “abridged” or picture based save for a single book on horses.
Okay, so he was a rare visitor during my stays in psychiatric facilities. Staff had to request his presence. The man was constantly working to provide, and, I suspect, find moments of peace while absorbed in the many facets and trades that an honours degree in engineering and continued professional development could provide, including my favourite stories of him to tell: His involvement with international motorsport.
During one of our trips to the Niagara region, Father and I walked as much as we could throughout these sites from the War of 1812. It was rough. He barely talked, spending more time meditating on the War than me. No photographs were permitted by him, it was more important that I experience rather than record. He often would pause in the walk, triggering impatience in me. Eyes half closed, breathing deeply, occasionally murmuring too low for me to hear. Sometimes touching certain features of the land and memorials, other times he would bow or nod his head.
I recall just a single line from his utterances during that lengthy time in poignant silence:
The study of history is never a wasteful pursuit.
“The poppy is my favourite flower,” said my American soul-sister to Father. He was taken aback momentarily, then nodded. Since that moment, he took the time to learn of and with her. Of all my friends over the years, she is the only one to earn – and keep – his respect.
The remembrance poppy isn’t a cute pin to wear every November. This is a symbol of respect and memories that haunt. Wear it not with pride or patriotism, but with humility. Power is tyranny when unchecked by humility. Remember, always remember.
There was a night where I lay in hospital, cloaked in physical, sensory, and symbolic darkness. I was mercifully unconscious a lot of the time – even with powerful medication and the watchful eyes of staff across medical institutions and researchers from the University of Toronto and McMaster University, I was succumbing to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome combined with sepsis. I don’t recall precisely when I’d gone autoimmune or when my organs began their descent into failure. I had no awareness of Father “raising hell” in the hospital when my parents were informed that it would be my final night.
I was sleeping. That’s a common theme in his family tree – elders passing on while asleep.
When it was morning, two things greeted me. My plushie of Megurine Luka and Father holding my hand. The fact that I could see them was surprising enough, SJS marked me with photosensitivity. But I wasn’t marvelling at that. I was caught up by the hard look on his face, one hand on mine, the other on Luka. A Saivite Hindu, he spoke from memory a modified passage of the King James Version of the Bible – the only version of the Bible he had read:
You have fought a good fight, you have finished your course, you have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for you a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give you at that day: And not to you only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.
+ Based on 2 Timothy 4:7-8
So, the point of all that was my remembrance of one who, for a time, guided me in the ways of remembrance.
Your mind is a double-ended weapon. Your body must train to wield this weapon, otherwise, it’s perceived as an exotic ornament and cumbersome. Is your spirit willing to endure?
Happy belated birthday, Dad.
All block quotations are of my father, to my best recall of my memories at the date of this post’s publication.