As our school community gathered today to commemorate Remembrance Day, the theme of service was highlighted in memory of all those who have served (and continue to serve) our country in the defense of peace and freedom. In a particular way this year, we recall the life and service of our late Queen Elizabeth II, for whom Remembrance was such an important act.
Most Canadians experience a certain poignancy when gathering for a few moments of silence at workplaces, schools, and at local cenotaphs on November 11th, especially those for whom military service has been (or continues to be) a reality. It is an important public declaration of our gratitude for the sacrifices of thousands of Canadians who fought and died for the rights we currently enjoy. It is also a dimension of our common life that can be easily overlooked amid the issues and distractions of our time.
I think school children and all of us can readily grasp the concept of being thankful for the service and sacrifice of long departed soldiers who helped spare our country the worst ravages of tyranny and totalitarianism. This is a very good thing. We are thankful of course. But are we and our children truly grateful?
Thankfulness and gratitude are experienced and expressed in two very different ways. According to psychologist and writer, Geoff Beattie, “gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, and confusion into clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow”.
Where thankfulness is an emotion then, gratitude is an attitude of appreciation under any circumstance. Gratitude involves being thankful, but it is more than that. Gratitude means expressing thankfulness and being appreciative of life every day – even when nothing exciting happens.
It strikes me that gratitude, especially on November 11th, is a very mindful way to experience the day. Whether it is recalling the sacrifices of the fallen in wartime or working for justice and peace today, we can likely all agree that there are many things for which we can be grateful – and for which we may forget during our busy modern lives.
And lest we forget that gratitude is a conscious decision, we need to model it and wear it on our lapels “like a poppy” throughout the year. It’s good for us and it is good for our children.
Gratitude improves our outlook on life. In addition, appreciating what we have can make us and our kids feel more optimistic and satisfied with less frustration, envy, and regret. It also tends to result in increased self-esteem and confidence, which also improves mood – theirs and ours! There is even evidence to suggest that gratitude helps to diminish the likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder after an upsetting experience. In the aftermath of a global pandemic, gratitude may be just what the doctor ordered.
On November 11, 2022, I am grateful for our school community that had its origins in the last days of World War I when Miss Matthews gathered with six little children at St. Paul’s Cathedral downtown. All these decades later, we have inherited a school that has been entrusted to us for a little while, so that we may practice gratitude by passing it along to the next generation protected, polished, and prepared for what comes next.
And as Miss Matthews used to say, we have a duty to see “each child as a separate person” learning to live “sanely and happily with its contemporaries, learning to face life bravely and with joy, whatever it may bring”.
If that’s not an attitude of gratitude (and timeless common sense!), I don’t know what is!
Ric Anderson, Head of School