Thursday, November 10, 2016

Armistice, Poppies, and Peace

Tower of London
awash in a sea of poppies
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it was finally all quiet on the Western Front. An armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany, for a cessation to the hostilities for the war to end all wars. So it was that November 11, 1918 became a national holiday among the allied nations, and dubbed Armistice Day.

Compeigne, France 1918
Since then, after the war to end all wars became World War I, and it appeared the term "armistice" sadly held true its original definition, and had become merely a temporary truce, the name for the date has changed. Still a national holiday, it now commemorates the veterans of the wars which followed. Britain, France, Australia, Canada and the United States all set aside this date to honor and remember the sacrifices of our veterans, living or dead. Now known as Remembrance Day in Canada, and Remembrance Sunday in Britain (so the date flexes with the calendar, the 2nd Sunday of November), we know it as Veterans Day.

There are many ways citizens have, over the past century or so, chosen to honor and remember those whose sacrifice have won for the rest of us the freedoms which we enjoy.

In South Africa, a toast to fallen comrades is observed by not only two minutes of silence, but two minutes of utter and complete darkness, lit only by the Light of Remembrance.

In the Commonwealth Nations, including the United Kingdom, Canada, India, much of the Caribbean and a number of African Nations, the date commemorates veterans of both World Wars, as well as the fallen, both killed and injured servicemen, in subsequent wars. Its symbol is the poppy. But, why the poppy?

A Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, lost a friend in the spring of 1915, and was inspired by the poppies growing in the battle-scarred fields in Ypres, West Flanders, Belgium. He writes:

Flanders Field
An American and Memorial WWI cemetery in Belgium
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 dies,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

McCrae's poem inspired an American teacher, Moina Michael, to make and sell silk poppies to raise money for ex-service members. From there, the poppy made its way back across the pond to become the symbol of Royal British Legion. And still you ask why? The poppy is an incredibly resilient flower. It managed to grow, to bloom, to flourish in fields otherwise destroyed by war. It is the symbol of the strength of resilience of humanity to grow from adversity and flourish.

This is the lesson to take away: there will be conflict. But life finds a way. Love finds a way.

So, as you go about your very busy lives, doing those everyday things which take up so much of our time, stop and think on these things. Whether you are satisfied with the election results or not, you have the freedom to cast your vote and make your opinions known. Whatever liberties you enjoy, you do so because of the sacrifice of service of our veterans. Sometimes, they spend their entire lives defending our way of life. Sometimes, they lose theirs in the process. And sometimes, they return with visible, or invisible, scars. Remember, appreciate, and thank a Veteran. And not just on November 11, but every precious moment you breathe in freedom's air.
Anthem, Arizona
At 11:11 on 11/11, the sun shines through the ellipses of  pillars representing the five armed services to form a perfect solar spotlight illuminating the Great Seal of the United States,

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