As Poppies Blow

I’ve been sitting looking at this screen for a while trying to figure out what I want to say. Words don’t seem to be difficult to find on Remembrance Day; radio and television is positively choked with media personalities and guests expressing their thoughts and their feelings about November 11th and what it means to them. There are posters and pictures and placards proclaiming the spirit of remembrance. But, I wonder how much of it is true to the spirit of remembering the sacrifices made by those brave enough to support a just cause at the expense of their life. I wonder if we’re just going through the motions, and, if we are, if we’ll be honouring greater and greater numbers of dead because the lessons learned by their sacrifice will escape us.

Oh, and I lost my poppy.

It was a red one. I haven’t seen white ones for sale, and I understand that they are still quite the controversy. Red poppies and yellow ribbons are the sacred symbols of token respect people don for specific occassions and then ignore for the rest of the year. They’re the ceremonial clothes the average person leaves in the closet until it’s fashionable and seasonable to wear them. And, everyone should wear them, if only for that occassion.

Respect and honour one week out of every year is far better than not at all.

I would have liked to wear a white poppy as well. The white poppy was promoted in 1924 as a symbol of peace and a striving to end war for all time, which I think is as worthy a cause to support as any. Lots of people have railed against the white poppy because they feel it is somehow a symbol of disrespect for the troops, or a political statement, or, even more perversely, a way of depriving the Legion of a trademarked revenue stream. None of those sentiments are appropriate to the respect we show the troops or the freedoms they sacrificed their lives for, and the pettiness is something that disgusts me. But, I’ve written about that before, last year in fact, and I’m not going to get into that specific complaint again now.

I was on the phone at work again this year when 11:00am rolled around, and I promptly interrupted the person I was talking to and hung up. I called back 5 or 6 minutes later. And, my day carries on.

After today, everyone will just carry on.

The headlines have been ugly, lately. Racial and religious intolerance, a young gay man driven to suicide by bullies, civil unrest about money and greed… This is what we do between November 11ths. For one day we stop and show respect for men and women who faced Hell, some winning only to suffer physical or psychological scars, others losing their lives to the battle. Particularly in the first and second World Wars, those sacrifices were made for freedom and a chance for our democracy to flourish. They gave their lives so that we could live ours and seek happiness and prosperity. I find it hard to believe that they gave their lives so that some ignorant punk could call a gay highschooler names, or threaten or beat him so mercilessly and regularly that he felt the only way out was to kill himself. Is our freedom really something to be proud of if we use it to impose our ideals, creed and ideology on those who come here seeking shelter from the chaos of their native countries? Is it a testament to those who fought and died that we treat eachother with such ruthless selfishness and cruelty all too regularly?

My grandmother is Dutch, and lived in occupied Holland during the Second World War. She met my grandfather, a chef in the Canadian Air Force, during the war. They used to tell me stories of their life during war time; Eating anything you could find, including neighbourhood cats, because food was so scarce you could starve; Her brother taking apart his motorcycle and stowing the hundreds of parts in the floorboards of the house so that the Nazis wouldn’t find and take it from him; The Jewish people they hid and smuggled and kept from Nazi patrols. It was a tiny little window into a world before I was born and the hardship of a conflict that I only see as history. And, it’s pretty humbling to think that boys would lie about their age for a chance to join up and go off to a far away land and fight a conflict for the sake of people they had never met, to free them from occupation and oppression. That selflessness is so incredibly stark and heroic when you look at the pompous greed of people today.

So, I’m proud to celebrate Remembrance Day. I think it’s the least we can do to show respect for those who have fought to allow us the freedom and life we have. But, I think we need to spend a lot more energy living that life right and proper, with respect for one another and our differences, and compassion. Not just on the days when we wear a poppy, but in the days after the poppies come off, too.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.” ~Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech, American Society of Newspaper Editors, 16 April 1953

“In Flanders Fields” – John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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1 comment so far

Well said Kris.

November 11th, 2011 at 6:54 pm

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