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Why I Wear a Poppy on Remembrance Day

November 11th ~ have you ever forgotten?

The reverberations of the cannons pounded in my chest. The sound of trumpets sliced through my prayers. Yet I forgot. I lost sight of the importance of remembrance and community. I hadn't meant to forget. In fact I'd promised my grandfather I'd never forget.

lest we forgetlest we forgetI don't know how or when Remembrance (Veteran's) Day settled into simply another workday. Ceremonies that involved families, neighborhoods and the nation turned into a moment's observance before lunch. The poppies, an annoyance that always got lost or picked you ceaselessly. And, you see, I wasn't alone in allowing more immediate concerns to drown my good intentions and my promise.

A family tradition

During my childhood we spent every Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph, together as a family. We bundled up in winter boots and coats and Mom made hot chocolate to warm our insides on the blustery morning. Mom, Dad, my brothers, my Grandfather - we all attended.

Remebrance / Veterans Day MemorialRemembrance / Veterans Day MemorialIf rain threatened, we threw raincoats over our winter clothes and trundled off to the car. When we arrived at City Hall or the Cenotaph, we stomped our feet and waved at friends as we struggled to keep warm. Even though the atmosphere started off as parade-like, we kids didn't need to be taught reverence. Those two minutes of silence pierced to our hearts.

The giggling stopped and we lowered our heads, peeking sideways at the adults. We understood as we watched our grandparents struggle to remain composed and eventually give over to grief. As my mother silently wrapped her arms around my grandfather's shaking shoulders, we got it.

We grew during those two minutes and became aware of a whole world instead of our little one. We bowed our heads, looking at the ground but seeing that poppy sitting quietly on our coats, like it had a secret to share.

Grandpa's stories

grandpas storiesgrandpas storiesBack home, sitting cross-legged on our living room floor and sipping hot chocolate, we listened to Grandpa retell his war stories. Grandpa was proud of the role he played during the war. He served at Niagara Falls and his regiment bore the responsibility of protecting our power supply.

His scar would/might have embarrassed some men, but Grandpa wasn't like most men. He proudly lifted his pant leg and showed us the gun shot scar on his shin, where he shot himself while cleaning his gun. It was his physical reminder of the war that was supposed to end all wars.

We grew up believing in the promise of peace. Even though the threat of nuclear war hung over our heads like a sickness, it didn't feel real. I reasoned that if someone ever did send a nuclear weapon to our small town I'd never know it anyway. The idea of total destruction numbed my mind until I couldn't distill the truth any longer. My best friend had escaped from Cyprus with her family, but that didn't seem real either because it was "over there."

But, now I imagine I know what my great grandmother, Clarissa, must have thought when her son, my grandfather, enlisted. I have three sons, a daughter and a husband. I worry that my family will have choices to make...

Sometime between my childhood and my children's births I lost sight of the importance of remembering the sacrifices of war. Remembrance Day, no longer commemorated with a day of freedom from work and school, turned into another day that I handed my parental responsibilities over to teachers. It was easier to let them teach my children the importance of two minutes of silence. It was easier to let them read Flanders Fields and explain the importance of wearing a poppy.

9/11 - when terror became real

building the Freedom Towerbuilding the Freedom TowerWhen I had little children at home and couldn't get to the school for those assemblies, I reasoned my guilt away. Then when I started working, I decided to let them continue attending the assemblies without me. After all I had a job and the teachers could handle those two minutes just fine.

I'm not so sure anymore. When I returned home from work September 11, 2001, my children already knew more about the attacks than I would have liked. They didn't need to read the headlines or watch TV to "see" what had happened.

My five-year-old son asked me at supper, "Mommy why would someone get in an airplane when they knew it was going to crash?"

Why? Indeed...

The word pictures he painted for us during the meal left me silent, and my tears were all I could offer as an answer. My nine-year-old sat close that evening, understanding without need for explanation the horror. He understood, more than I ever did at his age.

Finding grace...

Photo courtesy: baldhiker.comPhoto courtesy: baldhiker.comHundreds of years ago Martin Rinkhart penned "Now We Thank All Our God" during the black plague in Ireland. He was a minister and some days he performed as many as forty funerals. Many were for family and friends whom he loved. Yet, he still found a reason to be thankful and to give others a motive to look beyond their own pain and suffering and see the bigger picture of this incredible gift of life.

It can be hard for us, in this modern age, to see the stars when the streetlights get in the way. With all our technology and high speed access to news we can't see beyond our own grief, and see hope, faith and belief as something more than rhetorical calisthenics.

Donning a poppy, every November for eleven days, reminds me that saying thank you doesn't always have to be something grand. Sometimes it can be simple, quiet and overflowing with grace.

Do you wear a poppy? Do you have a life-changing travel story? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook and let's start talking!

In Flanders Fields

Photo courtesy: InFlandersFields.bePhoto courtesy: InFlandersFields.beIn 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.

~ John McRae

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I got a poppy with my grandpa (who was not a veteran but brought me up to respect and honor them) every Veteran's Day when I was a child. It's been many years since someone has offered me a poppy. I'm going to go find one this year. Thanks for the memories!

This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing your own reflections of this very important day of remembering and thanksgiving. Carole

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