Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembering to keep faith

November is the time of year when Canadians proudly wear our red poppies, in memory of those fellow Canadians having made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

This year it seems that I can't so much as ride in an elevator without a well-meaning stranger making a gentle inquiry about the significance of our "red pins". I've been asked about it dozens and dozens of times. (I must have a welcoming face..!)

Not making this observation to complain, but to instead declare the opposite: I feel so lucky to have been given so many chances this year to explain the symbol's meaning to newcomers and visitors to our country. Remembrance Day, with its roots in gratitude, humility and faith, grows in importance and deepens in meaning as the years crawl ever onward. In our little corner of the country, attendance at the ceremony held in downtown Vancouver seems to attract an increasing number of participants each year. Sadly, there is also a matched growth in the number of commemorative wreaths graciously placed at the Cenotaph memorial... a sign that the more that is given to us, the more that shall be expected from us.

We who have been so blessed in Canada, owe at least a moment of silence to those whose service is to be remembered on this most special of days. We also owe the continuing commitment to keep faith in our nation's resolve to live for more than the lesser of evils, but to struggle to lead a good life, in order to prove worthy of fellow Canadians whose souls are honored through Lieutenant-Colonel McCrae's immortal poem, In Flanders Fields:

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.

— John McCrae

I can't hope to match the lasting power of Lt-Col McCrae's words. Still I have tried, in my video honoring the veterans of World War II, to touch my fellow citizens' souls in the same way as his poem has forever touched me.

We Remember You, and give thanks.


Anonymous said...

I've never had the experience of being asked to explain the significance of the poppy on my lapel... Your post makes me wonder if I would be able to make any kind of an adequate answer. Oh, I could answer -- given a good five minutes to talk about the veterans young and old in my own life -- but how to convey the meaning of the poppy and the day, in the brief time it takes for the crosswalk light to change or the checkour line to move along? That's something to think about, isn't it?

Charles Henry said...

Jen, I was caught off-guard a couple of years ago, when someone asked me about it when I wasn't expecting it in circumstances as you describe, and fumbled the answer.
Later I made a point of revisiting my conversation and worked out a much better reply. Now I'm better prepared..! And I don't go home feeling as frustrated as I did that first time.

Thank God for questions like that one, because it really brings us to terms with just what it is we know and don't know about this special occasion. It's a sign of how much we understand something, that we are able to define it; and a further check on our understanding, that we are able to define it simply.

Godspeed to the veterans of your acquaintance, please tell them that there's a blogger in Vancouver who thanks them for their service!

Anonymous said...

My therapy dog and I are off to visit the veterans hospital this evening, in fact, Charles Henry -- and I will, indeed, pass on your message. Thanks for a thoughtful post, and a thoughtful response.