Skip to content

The fragile life of poppies hits home


This time last year, I was mad about poppies. I kept losing them. Losing them and buying them. You know the ones, the plastic ones with the thin red velour on one side, shiny red plastic on the other, a tiny silver steel pin to anchor them to your breast, the main symbol of Remembrance Day. I tried bending the pin this way and that, sometimes stabbing myself in the thumb, threading them through the fabric of my coat to hold them, but nothing ever worked.

These fake poppies are either poorly designed or cleverly designed, depending upon your perspective. If you want people to lose them, they are perfectly designed because I was losing one every couple of hours. Every time I put my early winter jacket down and picked it up later, the poppy was gone. My seatbelt pulled my poppy off every time and I only noticed the next time I went to go outside.

I, like pretty much everyone else, rich and poor, think we have to be seen wearing a poppy. Otherwise, people will assume we don't care about all the soldiers who died so we could do dumb things like complaining about fake poppies. Nine to 11 million soldiers died in World War I. Twenty-one to 25 million soldiers died in World War II. And for what? Germany is now an upstanding democratic citizen of the world and Japan much the same. Would that have happened without the sacrifice of these soldiers?

For every soldier that died, four civilians died. That's a heavy weight of guilt to carry – all those deaths – and wearing a poppy seems to lighten the load. But I kept losing them, dreading the approach of a youthful cadet with their earnest faces and poppy-filled trays. The only way to foil their mission and escape was the shield of a poppy on my chest.

But then, on Remembrance Day morning last year, in the hour before 11 a.m., when you most need a poppy, I lost yet another with nowhere in sight to get one. At the height of my angst heading to the gym to join the town in its Remembrance Day ceremony, I was hit by an awful realization – that's how it happened.

Those soldiers in the trenches, in the foxholes, on the battlefield, would be doing their job, then something, a shot fired or shell blast, would happen and the person beside them would be gone. Someone they might have been talking to moments before, a friend, a comrade, someone just like them, and they were gone or suffering mortal wounds or if they were lucky, left with a life altering wound.

That's the horror of war, the story the poppy tells. Here today, gone today. Now when I lose a poppy, I don't get mad, I get sad, thinking of the people lost in those wars of the past 100 years, soldiers and civilians.

Because that's what had to be done. Millions of living soldiers replaced millions of dead soldiers until humanity came to its senses. Nothing to celebrate but a must to remember and prevent from ever happening again, if that is possible.