Each year that passes, I realise something symbolic and significant about public holidays.
As a child, these precious days were about me. They were a day away from school, to play video games, watch TV and do what I wanted. Christmas and Easter had Christian significance and my upbringing tied those days to ‘something’. But Queens Birthday? Excuse to play basketball all weekend. Labour Day? Normally a good time for a family dinner.
These days are de-sensitised from significance to naivety with a slice of individualism. Based on a fact there wasn’t a connection that was significant or personal.
But individuals poured their heart, souls and lives for these days to stand on the calendar — to the frustration of employers everywhere, who pay their employees for these days without getting a cent of production from the employee. I wonder what the overseas employer (or new sole trader) must think about the prevalence of public holidays.
And nothing says sacrifice more than ANZAC. Where soldiers didn’t return home. Where families were broken apart. Where people fought for values beyond their own flesh and blood. For family, ancestry and country. For something greater than themselves.
I love how museums provide a gateway to realities previously. Credit to those who dedicate their working lives and creative streaks to re-creating atmosphere, history and narrative, in a place where everyday people can reconnect.
The ANZAC exhibitions were such experiences to me. Yes, that sounds like a cop-out. Growing up in New Zealand meant I learned about the World Wars through the year. Watched the annual news bulletins too. The unfortunate part is that I treated ANZAC as a topic to be learned, rather than an event that affected the fabric of the country I belong to, an event that warrants understanding, acknowledgment and remembrance.
Seeing the annual news story of the Cenotaph and the Dawn Service, with thousands in attendance to acknowledge and remember, didn’t resonate for a while. And that’s a shame.
I hope I’m not the only person who’s contemplated the possibility of war rolling its ugly head again. Against an oppositional force that seeks to undermine the peace and freedom that has been constructed. I immediately see widespread scepticism. Is this a political agenda? Why would I put my life on the line to be led by someone (and some values) I don’t agree with? Speculation and controversy would be rife.
There would be vague direction and indecision. The media outlets would pursue different hot takes. The ‘embrace debate’ within our news bulletins would peak at its highest.
Meanwhile, the oppositional force mobilises further. Gains further ground in Western territories. The death toll rises. Affected countries call for help. We send some assistance. But more opinion and indecision ensues amongst the general population. Partly out of fear, partly out of scepticism.
Only when the oppositional force directly threatens our peace and freedom do we act. Threats are made. Thousands join the military pursuit. (Just prompted to think about the effectiveness of desperation — will keep thinking about that).
What would I do?
My contemplations have led to fear and onset panic. Plenty of questions — would I flee or fight for values beyond myself? Would I be able to look someone who had such different values to me and battle against them? What do I stand for? How would I respond to my fear?
I wonder how many of those soldiers went with fear. That was left at the boundary of their home; certainly disappeared when they walked onto a battlefield. Maybe their convictions and what rang true outweighed the pre-eminent fear. Some may have gained confidence over time. Others stood tall until a gunshot strikes a body part. Then the next. And the next. Their eyes shut, and their body joined the many others laid on a wasteland of promises.
It isn’t mandatory to turn up at the break of Dawn on ANZAC Day, and sit in silence to remember the lives lost in pursuit of the freedom and peace we continue to pursue today. To many its inconvenient, to which I include myself, as a guilty culprit missing the moment for reasons that center on me.
I don’t have a loved one that fought in those times. I may not have a direct connection. But I live a life that was allowed to be the way it is by the sacrifices of so many.
Their voice needs to be heard. The voices of surviving soldiers need to be heard. And ANZAC is the one time each year where the nation stops to remember. Whether I choose to do so, to remember them, and make a small inconvenience to my rhythm of public holidays and 3-day weekends, is up to me.