Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lest we forget

Have you bought your poppy? I'm sure you have.

My annual poppy-selling session took place last Saturday. I don't know how you feel, but I always find it deeply moving to witness the commitment of people of all ages towards buying a poppy. It is as though, at some unconscious level, we are all stirred by the sight of these small,
red emblems.
Memories - our own, or inherited - urge us to participate in this annual ritual.

I did my best to pin each poppy firmly to the buyer's coat or jacket, poppies (the man-made variety) are notorious for working loose from their anchorage. As I did so, I couldn't help wondering just what it is that gives this small, red, flower such potency, such appeal?
Were the emblem a national flag, would it sell in the same numbers?
I rather doubt it. After all, which flag would we choose? It is the universality and innocence of the poppy, the picture it conjures up of fragile survival on muddy, worn-torn fields that gives it its potency. The blood-red poppy reminds us of sacrifice, it also speaks of our common ground . . . of hope, resilience, and basic unity. When we buy our poppy we aren't celebrating war, we are giving gratitude for the survival of hope.

Talking of common ground, I was privileged recently to hear James O'Dea, a former director of Amnesty International, give a thought-provoking talk on the subject of reconciliation.

"We are supposed to move beyond the horrors of the Holocaust, the terrors of Ruwanda and all the conflicts," he said, "and move to an integrated future . . . the most profound results stem from a small step towards reconciliation and forgiveness, towards our common ground that we share."

It's a powerful message, one that was echoed by a ninety-one-year-old war veteran who visited our local comprehensive school. His visit was intended to bring the Second World War alive to the students. It did.
The talk was moving . . . the students were transfixed.

At the end, when questions were invited, an eager hand shot up.
"What happened to the German soldier who tried to shoot you in the desert?" a young boy wanted to know.
"I hope he returned home to live a long and happy life," said the speaker.

Is it too fanciful to imagine that, with each poppy sold, there is sold a seed? A poppy seed of love, compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness and hope. A seed that will germinate and take root, and whose flowers will never know the crushing boots of greed and aggression.

Will these poppies flourish?
For the sake of those who died, and for the sake of those who mourn . . . we must ensure that they do.