wearing a poppy carries just one important meaning

A few years ago I settled my kids into a convenient spot on St. Anne Street right around 10:57 a.m. on Nov. 11. They were warmly dressed and each holding a cup of hot chocolate. The crowd fell still when the call for two minutes of silence was announced. As we slowly rose to our feet we lost our grip on one of the cups and watched helplessly as it hit the ground, lost its cap, and splashed hot chocolate up the white pant leg of the young father standing next to us.

I was aghast and began to apologize, but stopped short when I realized he was not going to respond to me because of the timing, despite his obvious aggravation. He brushed off his pant leg, then stood up and stared straight ahead.

Everything within me wanted to do two things at once, both to apologize and to observe still silence, but in the end I did neither well. However, as I stood quietly, his little boy felt absolutely no inhibitions in communicating his displeasure. In complete silence, the boy scowled at me, crossed his arms, and gave me an angry look of defiance. He reached out his finger, pointed at me and mouthed, “My dad is going to GIT you!” Amusing, but his point was well taken.

I do not have any close family members who are veterans, so my experience is not as poignant as those who mourn and celebrate their family members’ participation in the armed forces. Even though the Remembrance Day ceremony that year was somewhat interrupted, the importance of the holiday was definitely not missed. One of my daughters, currently living in Wisconsin, sent me a Facebook message this week, “Mom! Send me a poppy!” She had discovered that the locals don’t wear poppies, and she didn’t want to miss out on this personally important ritual.

My parents, always very conscious of the lack of funds in our family, actually reused their poppies each year by pinning them to our calendar in the kitchen. So despite Nov. 11 coming and going, we experienced a constant reminder every time we looked at the calendar.

The poppy is a visual promise to never forget all those who have fallen in military operations. Although largely adopted by Canadians due to Lt.-Col. John McCrae’s poem, the symbol is recognized internationally, particularly within the Commonwealth. For decades it has helped us focus our thoughts in honour of the fallen.

But in our Machiavellian culture, people choose to reassign their own beliefs and opinions to symbols regardless of the established societal definition. Some people take every opportunity to redefine what is predetermined to ultimately satisfy their own message. I’m here to say that wearing a poppy has not meant, and still does not mean that you agree with why our troops are involved in battle. It does not mean you honour soldiers more than civilian victims, nor that you approve of all actions of soldiers in conflict. It does not endorse violence, does not fund war, does not glorify death, and it does not represent your political stripe.

The poppy is a symbol of memory, an icon of the beauty that grew from the ground where death and horror lay. It is a monument to courage and a recognition of sadness and loss. We cannot possibly know all the names of the men and women who have been wounded or have died from their commitment to defending our way of life. But thankfully there is a pocket of time each year when we can set aside our feelings and opinions about war and, out of respect, stand silently and remember those who put their life on the line for us.

On Friday, Dee-Ann Schwanke will be thinking of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, observing their last Remembrance Day in that location.

St. Albert Gazette | Saturday, Nov 05, 2011 06:00 am | Dee-Ann Schwanke

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