The Poppy Catalyst

Carcassonne: trail just inside the walls

A couple years ago Sherry and I vacationed in the Languedoc region of France. It was the end of May, late spring on the verge of summer, and there were poppies all over the place. You don’t see them that much here at home, unless they’ve been planted in someone’s garden, and the orange California version is more common.

I absolutely loved them. They made the fields and ditches where they grew in profusion far more gorgeous than the goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace we get. And, unsurprisingly, staring out a bus window, they made In Flanders’ Fields run through my head. I remember learning back in school that poppies need “disturbed” earth to germinate and grow, and battlefields were torn up to no end. Again, not so many tank ruts or shell craters in Grey Bruce where I grew up.

The poppies were and are a good metaphor for my own war remembrances, or lack thereof. As I’ve mentioned before, being from a Mennonite family means we don’t have any vets. Mennonites are exempt from service, and given we’ve also been farmers, were exempt for that reason, too. Instead of poppies, we’re supposed to wear these buttons. I probably still have one around somewhere.

To remember is to work for peace

I went back into my archive and read some of the stuff I’ve posted on previous Remembrance Days. Man, did I ever sound angry and obnoxious. Not sure why, and probably had no idea it came off that way. Ahh, hindsight. The problem I’ve always had is that the way I’m supposed to acknowledge Remembrance Day didn’t quite work for me. Of course, my extreme ignorance didn’t help. Our “learning” was from books, our version of The Last Post was scratchy and warbly, and our tiny village didn’t have a cenotaph. And not really knowing any veterans personally didn’t help, either.

However, over the years an idea has occurred to me, about which I’ve written before. That society is based on certain people knowing things. They choose to take on jobs that most people don’t want, and that involve seeing and doing things that no one would ever want to see or do. Doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, etc. — and the military. Unlike desk jockeys like myself, they don’t get paid nearly what they’re worth, and part of their “contract” is accepting that in carrying out their duties, their lives will be at risk. Possibly often and possibly very far from home.

I don’t get Remembering from a personal standpoint. I understand history quite well, and even human nature a little bit. I know what we’re capable of. But I also know I am fortunate enough to live in both a country and a generation where I am safer and wealthier than most of the world. And because of how the world works, that doesn’t just happen.

I have made the acquaintance of someone who has served, and have seen the tiniest snippet of “life” in Afghanistan. I have had the difference explained to me between the sound of gunfire around you, and gunfire coming at you. The odds of me ever personally experiencing this? Pretty much negligible.

Yes, in a perfect world, everyone would embrace the dove of peace and be willing to accept all persecution, even death, rather than fight. And ultimately, that is what pacifism means. We don’t live in that world. In this world there are too many humans. I have the utmost respect for those who try, though. For people like George Weber and Jim Loney who walk into war zones unarmed to try to help and protect those who never chose to be there. And who paid for it with their lives or by being taken hostage.

But in this world there are also those humans who realize what world we do live in, and who choose to serve. To see and do and know the things I would never want anyone I care about to know. To Remember the things I can’t even begin to fathom. I don’t have to agree with or understand every choice or action, but I can respect the choice to serve, however it is undertaken.

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