I was in the ninth grade and it was early in the year. I was still trying to decide what I thought of my very tall, kind of hairy, basketball obsessed homeroom teacher, Mr. Kennedy. He wore ties with ducks on them and had a poster of Larry Bird above his desk. He also had this weird thing with Canada; he called it patriotism. It all seemed a little sketchy to me.
Like I said, I was in the ninth grade, 14 years old and stubborn as all get out. I had recently injured my knee and truth be told, I was totally milking it. And he knew it but it wasn't until the morning I refused to stand at attention for 'O Canada' that he called me on my attitude and schooled me on showing proper respect.
I stood for the anthem but leaned on my chair. Apparently I wasn't the only slacker that morning. After the anthem was finished, Mr. Kennedy informed our class that we would stand for an additional five minutes and we would stand at attention. No leaning. No slouching. At the end of the five minutes he informed us that we had earned our disrespectful selves another five minutes at attention because of the chatter, sighing and leaning that filled the previous five minutes.
I said, 'no.'
I claimed that my knee was too sore to stand for another five minutes and I was certainly incapable of standing without leaning on my chair. Although my knee was achy, the truth was that I was bored and decided that this was the moment I was going to make my power play. This was my moment to put this unconventional teacher in his place. He quietly walked toward me, removed my chair and said, 'you will stand.' I looked him in the eye said 'no' again. He stared right back at me. I cracked and tears began to roll down my cheeks. He walked back to his desk and started the clock.
He finished his talk with these words, "Boys not much older than you gave up their lives so that you can live freely in this great country, the least you can do is stand for three minutes a day and remember them."
Mr. Kennedy was the first person and only person I can ever remember explaining the significance of our anthem and the importance of standing with respect and remembering, honouring, those who fought for our freedom. From that moment to this, if ever I have wasted an opportunity to remember and honour during our national anthem I have felt guilty, like I have cheapened the gift of freedom.
So this morning, as I told the boys to stand at attention and stop talking, I thought of Mr. Kennedy, of the brave men and women who fought, on the battlefield and in the legislature, throughout our nation's history to bring freedom and protect her citizens. I thought, I honoured and I wondered. I wondered if these kids understand. If they understand the price of freedom, the gift of freedom. I wondered if they have ever been told that the simple act of standing at attention for three minutes is our small gift back.
We only need to look at what we are really doing in the world and at home and we'll know what it is to be Canadian.