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A plea for the Poppy.
I find myself quite sad and melancholy after writing this, but here it is. My plea for the Poppy.
Growing up, Remembrance Day was a tricky thing for me. Although my Mom’s Dad and her Uncle Henry were both Canadian Veterans of the Second World War, my Dad’s Dad and all his uncles had been conscientious objectors. This pacifist community was the one I was immersed in, the one is which my siblings and I were raised. But I remember feeling confused every Remembrance Day, because even at that young age, I could tell that my Mom was torn – wear a poppy to honour her Dad and her Uncle, or not wear a poppy, because her new community told her that doing so glorified war? And I remember being stressed out when it came time to do the yearly Legion poster and poem contest. I was taught that war was bad, but at the same time, my Mom’s Dad was the Legion President, and he was the one who would be handing out the certificates, so if I won, I’d be getting the prize from my Grandpa, who was one of my absolute favourite people. I guess, in the end, it’s a good thing I was never much of an artist, and my posters were never good enough to be considered anyway. But I do remember, in Grade 4, writing a poem about how peace was better than war, and we shouldn’t celebrate Remembrance Day, and my teacher handing it back and saying “No, this is not acceptable for this competition.”
Remembrance Day is still kind of tricky for me, but for different reasons. From being raised a pacifist, I ended up marrying a member of the Canadian Forces. I now live on a military base. And the people I have met through my husband are some of the finest people I know. They are kind, they are generous, they like to make my kids laugh. And I find myself getting quite defensive when people drive past them when they are on a march and take the time to roll down their windows and yell “Baby killers!” I am especially offended by this since one of my husband’s friends was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan while he was handing out candy to local children.
I certainly never thought, growing up, that I would end up going to funerals of people who I knew that had been killed in war – my freedom was something I took for granted. But I’ve been to three now. And I know more families for whom Remembrance Day is now a newly deeply personal time to remember a loved one, gone too soon. None of these guys were the bad people I had been raised to think soldiers were. They were sons, they were brothers, they were husbands. They were fathers, or fathers-to-be.
Many people still, to this day, wear buttons that say “To Remember Is To Work For Peace” instead of poppies. And this bothers me. To me, when they wear these buttons, it says to the families of the fallen that co-opting this day for their own message is more important than taking a moment to remember, if not those who died in war, than at the very least, those left behind who mourn them. I don’t think there is anything particularly glorifying in wearing a poppy in the first place, but, certainly, it is not war-mongering to wear a poppy to say to the child who will never know their father “we are sorry for your pain.”
And there is nothing wrong with working for peace. Peace is good. Peace is desirable. But you can wear your peace button every other day of the year – do you really need to do it on that one day that is set aside for remembering sacrifices? Because, let’s be honest, even though it is cliché to say, you have the freedom to wear that button because of the actions you are protesting. Isn’t freedom delicious and ironic? And for my Dad’s family, and other families like them who fled violent countries and situations for the safety of Canada – that freedom and safety you enjoy is not free. Other people have signed a blank cheque to Canada to pay with their lives, if need be, for your right to not bear arms, and your right to practice your religion freely. And I don’t think you should have to bear arms if you don’t want to, I really don’t. I fully support and respect the decisions the men in my Dad’s family made to not go to war. I think that should be a personal choice based on your conscience. But be thankful you have that right. Show that gratitude to those who will put their lives on the line in order for you to have that choice. Show your thanks to the families who send their loved ones off into danger so that you can stay safe. Other people have given all for you to have this ability.
And for pete’s sake, when you see someone, like my Mom, whose Dad was a veteran, wearing a poppy, don’t childe them. Don’t say to them sternly, “Don’t you think you should be wearing your peace button instead? What kind of message are you sending?”, because – as my Mom has come into her own as she’s grown older – it will only make my Mom go and festoon her coat with as many poppies as she can find. You don’t know who you are talking to and what they’ve gone through. You don’t know what price they’ve paid.
I guess the point of this ramble is a plea – please wear a poppy. Wear a poppy for those who served. Wear a poppy for those who are serving. Wear a poppy for the families who are the ones left to pay the price when than blank cheque is cashed. Wear a poppy to say “Thank you, Canada, for being willing to stand and fight for the ideas that create this free and safe society.” Wear a poppy because it is a choice and not a law. Do not allow your children to ‘opt out’ of Remembrance Day services at their schools. Tell them to go and listen with pride to what others were willing to go through in order for you to live in the Canada you live in. Do not let them become complacent in their freedom and their privilege. Do not let them take it for granted. Those of you who have the least interest in enlisting are the ones who, to my mind, owe the most thanks. Because you don’t have to – you live in a country where you are free to follow your own path – and that is something to be grateful for.