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Her first Remembrance Day poppy

My stepson shared this message to his newsletter contacts and it was so fitting, that I wanted to share it with you.  Thank you Andrew!

 

 

This week my wife was leaving a store with kids in tow and stopped to buy a poppy from the Cadet at the front door. Of course, you can’t buy a bright red flower in the presence of a two year old girl and expect her to go without, so she got one for Scarlett as well. Her first Remembrance Day poppy. When I got home from work later I asked her what she did that day and it was proudly declared that her and mommy got red flowers. I asked her to show me, and then I took her to the closet where I had hung my suit jacket to show her that I also had one (given to me graciously by Sharon, who could in some ways be considered my office mommy. Thank you Sharon). She seemed pleased, and then the inevitable question that has echoed form the mouths of two year olds since time immemorial was asked… “Why?

 

It caught me off guard. Obviously we all know why we wear poppies in November, but you are rarely, if ever, asked to put the explanation into real words. Harder still, real words that can be understood by a two year old. She wouldn’t understand who Archduke Franz Ferdinand was, or where Germany is, or how many 16 million dead are, or what the word “Armistice” means. Still, whenever she asks me a question I always try to make a point of taking the time to explain things to her fully, in a way she can understand, even if the concept is complex. So after a brief pause to collect my thoughts (one of which was “good luck with this one Andrew”) this is what I told her…

“You know how you have a grandpa? Well daddy had a grandpa too, and long, long ago when even daddy’s grandpa was just little like you everyone in the world got into a really big fight because some people were being mean and nobody could get along. And the fight was so big that it lasted for four years, which is a long time because that’s twice as old as you are now. During the fight a lot of people got hurt really badly, and a lot of people’s homes and things were broken, and so eventually everyone decided not to fight anymore because everyone was just getting hurt. And when they stopped fighting these red flowers started to grow on the fields they had been fighting on, and so everyone agreed that every year we would wear a red poppy so that we all remembered not to fight with each other and that it’s better to be nice and get along.”

Scarlett seemed pleased with that explanation and there was no follow up “why”. Quite frankly, I was also quite pleased with myself and the surprising quality of the two-year-old-friendly synopsis of WW1 that I had just created on the spot. My wife, who had been listening, was also impressed, so I counted it as a win for dad and put Scarlett down to run back to her toys in the living room.

I thought about my explanation some more and realized that Scarlett was still living in a state of blissful ignorance. Where before she just thought it was nice to have a red flower on her coat, now she understood (in a loose sense of the word) that the red flower represents the importance of not fighting. As far as she is concerned, the poppies worked. We had a war, and we all agreed to wear poppies each year to remember not to have anymore, and now she can eat her crackers and watch her Paw Patrol in peace. But she doesn’t know that we’ve had many since, including one that involved the entire world again, even though every year we all don poppies in November. I’m in no rush to explain that to her, but it did cause me to think of my poppy a little differently.

I’ve been on a kick of war history lately, watching the Ken Burns documentary of WWII and “The Devil Next Door”, which is about the retired Cincinnati auto worker accused of being a particularly cruel death camp guard and gas chamber operator at Treblinka in Poland. In both cases I now find myself viewing these events, which I’m very familiar with after years of history studies in University, very differently. I think of the luck that I was born and of fighting age during peacetime instead of during any of the wars for which there was a draft. I think of the courage, naïve or otherwise, some of these folks had to leave their families and sign up to be fighter pilots over Europe, knowing that the average pilot was statistically not expected to survive the 25 mission tour. I think of the man who only met his new born daughter once before leaving for the Pacific theater only to be shot in the leg and then die when a shell hit the hospital he was being treated in. I think of the stories child survivors of the camps tell that are too horrific to repeat here, and the horror their parents must have felt as they helplessly left their children behind. And I think of all of the families on both sides where fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers never returned, leaving their wives, parents, sisters, and children with grief so strong that 70 years later those telling the story to documentary crews still cannot hold back tears. They were people just like me before the war broke out, with normal jobs, normal lives, and no particular desire to die on a beach, or in a trench, or on an island, or by sinking beneath the waves or plummeting out of the sky. The millions of dead are who the poppies represent, but those they left behind are who the poppies are for. I cannot imagine being forced from my family, or having them taken from me, never to see them again and knowing that the fate that caused that was a horrible one. Having children has also allowed me to understand why the veterans fought and died so that their families didn’t have to. If given the choice between a bomber over Germany or my son and daughter on a train car alone in Poland, I’d be the first one on that plane. The better outcome has been that I never had to make that choice.

So this year, for me, the poppy represents all the things I didn’t have to do. All the times, good and bad, in the last two years I didn’t have to miss. I’m thankful for all the veterans of the past and service men and women now who allow me the privilege of not having to risk my life, and the stability that gives to those I love. In a strange way, my daughter’s question about the poppy has given it more meaning, and I’ve realized the window of risk has now widened for me. As I “age out” of draft age for any future wars, my kids will “age in”, so maybe now more than ever it is important to think of the poppy the way Scarlett does. As an effective reminder of the lessons we have learned about the outcomes of fighting with one another, rather than just a symbol of a high and rising death toll caused by those who wear one every year but fail to heed its warning.

So thank you to those who served and those who still are, but to those who would put them or us at risk in the future, in the words of my daughter, “Why?”

 

- Andrew Dunn, CIM | Vice President & Associate Portfolio Manager | Dunn Wealth Management Group of RBC Dominion Securities| P: 604-881-8515 |  www.andrew-dunn.ca

******


In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae

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.

 
 

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