I got my first poppy earlier this week - I usually lose at least one and replace it during what has now morphed from Remembrance Day into Remembrance Season. Is it just my imagination or are we donning poppies earlier and wearing them longer?
The vet who gave it to me, sitting on a scooter, reminded me to wear it on my left lapel, over my heart, and to bend the end of the pin up so that I wouldn't lose it. Another woman got one at the same time, and then explained to me, as we walked away, "My mother was a war bride."
Of course, no explanation is needed as to why Canadians wear the scarlet poppy - 18 million poppies have already been distributed so far this year.
As every schoolchild knows, you wear a poppy to honour the sacrifice of all those soldiers who died for their country. And who are still dying in Afghanistan, a fact that no doubt is responsible for what appears to be a modern-day reawareness of what the poppy symbolizes.
Television anchors and reporters now uniformly display them. Question Period is a sea of red. And even scandals, such as the Halloween party that went bad at the Royal Canadian Legion in Campbellford, Ont., won't deter most of us from honouring our soldiers. In Campbellford, they appear not to have heard of the civil-rights movement, let alone political correctness, because they awarded first prize for costumes last weekend to two men, one in blackface with a noose around his neck being led by another dressed as a Ku Klux Klansman. The Legion has since been closed and apologies issued. No word yet on whether the local branch will emerge from disgrace in time for its Nov. 11 ceremonies.
The Royal Canadian Legion administers the poppy distribution and makes sure that the donations go to such prosaic things as "new roofs and new teeth" for vets, a spokesman says. It is also dealing with what it views as a pesky "white poppies for peace" movement, a campaign that has been around for a few years because, as one Ottawa peace activist put it to the National Post, "the red Legion poppy, in my opinion, represents the nostalgia and romanticizing of war." He added: "We should remember that you don't have to go to war to get peace."
The Legion has objected to the white poppy not only as a trademark-infringement issue, but also on the grounds that the red poppy is "not political." One vet in PEI went so far as to say, "It seems to me that the people who usually distribute these poppies and do these sort of things have never spent a day in their life in the service of their country."
Really? To that, I would reply: Don't go there, soldier; don't insinuate that you can't make a statement for peace if you haven't gone to war. That also goes for leaders who question the patriotism and respect for Canadian soldiers of anyone who laments how Afghan detainees are treated or how Omar Khadr has experienced justice. Or even the wisdom of the Afghan mission itself.
That said, I won't be switching to white - I have too much attachment to the red poppy, which I think can symbolize many things, including opposition to the senseless loss of life that war brings.
Last spring at the Juno Beach Centre in Normandy, my husband and I stood on the beach as our daughter, who was then a guide, took us through the saga of the D-Day landing. (Did you know that some soldiers were carrying so much weight on their backs that they didn't even make it to shore, and instead drowned during disembarkment?)
We also visited Bény-sur-Mer, the exquisite small cemetery where Canadian D-Day casualties are buried, and walked among the graves, reading out the names and ages of the dead, sometimes a row of brothers. I know that most politicians at one time or another visit Juno Beach or Vimy Ridge, but it occurred to me, as I stood there on a gorgeous spring day, that every political leader on the verge of committing troops to battle should fly over and just walk down the rows, reading out the names, before he does it. It is that powerful.
This week, wearing my poppy, I also went to see a revival in Toronto of VideoCabaret's The Great War, written and directed by Michael Hollingsworth, a brilliant theatrical onslaught that tells you more about Canada's involvement in the First World War, in which 58,000 Canadian soldiers perished, than you ever thought it was possible to absorb in a two-hour sitting. (Because it's performed at the Cameron House tavern, they let you drink as you watch, which is a good thing.)
"War is not an aberration. It happens too frequently to be an aberration," says one character, which kind of sums up the whole problem of civilization.
I think that was where I lost my poppy. Back out today to get another one.