Presentation of Decorations for Bravery
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Rideau Hall, Friday, October 22, 2010
Good morning everyone and welcome to Rideau Hall!
We have come together today to recognize bravery. To celebrate service. To honour heroes.
Behind every one of these beautiful medals is an amazing story. A story of a life saved, a family preserved, a community strengthened. Stories too, of fear overcome, because bravery is not the absence of fear, it is the judgment that something else—and someone else—is more important than fear.
As a society, we rightly honour the sacrifice of our soldiers whose bravery often comes in the full fury of battle. But it is also right that we should honour bravery that takes place in the course of living one’s everyday life.
And in reading your individual stories of bravery, I was struck by how the most ordinary of days, the most common of situations, can call forth the most uncommon acts of courage. A canoe on a lake. A neighbour’s house. A boardwalk near a harbour. A snowmobile on a winter’s day. The simple surroundings we take for granted, suddenly become the stage on which life and death events take place.
It has been said that, “adversity introduces a person to themselves”. And that’s certainly true, for it is at that moment when you truly discover what’s within you. In a heartbeat, each of you was faced with a decision—to act or not. To flee or to help. To save yourself or to try and save another. The answer you gave could not have been easy because the risks were real. Indeed, the stakes involved are evidenced by the fact that medals are sometimes awarded posthumously.
But, despite the difficulties and dangers, you set aside concern for yourself and looked to be of service to others. It is an example that inspires and challenges us all. Because while we won’t all be asked to run into a burning building or dive into icy waters, all of us, as citizens, do have responsibilities and duties to one another. Responsibilities that form the basis for our lives together. For as the Scottish poet, Joanna Baillie, reminds us, “service is the rent we pay for our space on this earth.”
Each of you has paid that rent, in full.
I know that many of you would say that no medal is necessary, that what you did is not deserving of special attention, that anyone would have done what you did in the same circumstances.
But, of course, what you did was not what everyone would have done and today we offer you the thanks of a grateful nation. We are fortunate to have such heroes in our midst.
In his recently released memoirs, Nelson Mandela—who knows a thing or two about bravery—says this, “The knowledge that in your day you did your duty, and lived up to the expectations of your fellow men is in itself a rewarding experience and magnificent achievement.”
Each of you here today understands what Mandela was speaking about. Each of you did your duty. Each of you lived up to the expectations we had of you and, in so doing, you made a difference in so many lives.
John F. Kennedy once described courage as grace under pressure.
May all of us, as your fellow citizens, find inspiration in your grace and answer the call of service and sacrifice wherever we may find it. And may we be brave enough to follow the examples you have set.