I write to you from the Comox Valley, which is about three hours north of Victoria on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia.
It it not a part of B.C. or Vancouver Island I knew much about prior to this trip. I’m loving it. Even in the rain and grey. Which is good, because the trip to get here, my first flight since the pandemic started, was quite a marathon of requirements to meet, forms to fill out, and my third COVID test in three days. A lady in one of the innumerable lines I was in, who looked younger than me, said that she had concluded she was now too old to travel. Just too many hoops to jump through. Too many forms to keep track of. Too many apps to download.
I’m doing what I call a “Congregational Assessment” with St. George’s United Church in Courtenay, B. C. where Ryan Slifka is the pastor. I gotta say, it’s heartening. A lot of people who love the church, who love the Lord and who are being faithful in all sorts of ways. Prior to the pandemic, St. George’s was one of the few growing churches in the United Church of Canada. Although they are now back in person, people are returning slowly. They are cautiously hopeful.
Today, November 11, was Armistice/ Remembrance Day in Canada, Veterans Day in the U.S. Both note the end of the First World War, but have been broadened to remember all people who have served in the military and those who have fallen in the line of duty.
What struck me here, as I was making a driving tour of the Comox Valley, and its three townships was the local events and ceremonies for Armistice Day in each community. That and the poppies. Everyone had on a red poppy. And in all three of the towns, commemorative events were going on that were being attended by local people, many with children in tow.
The holiday means something. My local guide pulled over, stopped the car and said a prayer remembering those who had served, those who had died, and praying for peace in a world of war. I was quite touched. In a lovely Canadian way, he said, “we’ll just have moment.” Meaning, we will stop for prayer.
I don’t know, but I don’t recall too much in the way of such observations in the U.S. Yes, there are photos of the President or other dignitaries laying a wreath and the like. But observances that are local, communal and of the people? Maybe there are those and I’ve missed it. But here it mattered, which seemed good and, to me, refreshing. Something other than the culture wars.
It felt more like a holiday in the original sense of the word, a “holy day,” and not just an excuse for a three or four day weekend and mini-vacation. It really was a day of remembrance. Of remembering sacrifices made, loss endured, wars fought, wars ended.
In Seattle the schools will be closed tomorrow, the day after Veterans Day because so many teachers have put in for the day off, thus managing a four-day weekend. The school system couldn’t accommodate the demand for substitute teachers. So the schools are closed. The school district also said something in their public statement teachers being under such stress that they needed the four day break. Perhaps that is the case.
But it seems to me that we long ago, in the States, gave up on the idea of civic holidays. We made many such days into Monday “holidays,” thus “three-day-weekends,” thus “mini-vacations.” A vacation and a holy day are different. A vacation is a personal or private thing. Time off for me or my family. A holiday is different. It is a societal, a communal, thing. A day of shared meaning and remembrance.
As holidays have morphed into three-day weekends and mini-vacations — with inducements to “go shopping — something has been lost. Something we now need — shared memory and meaning, transcending our differences — and we don’t know how to get it back.