This column isn’t about Don Cherry.
OK, that’s a bit of a lie — he gave me the idea for it, but that’s it.
Lets set aside the whole poppy thing for a second. I think most (there is literally nothing in this world everyone will agree on) people can agree that veterans deserve both our gratitude and respect.
The poppy, of course, is a symbol of just that: our continuous gratitude to the millions of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in a war that began over a century ago.
It’s a sign of both peace and death; a reminder of the past horrors of war and the luxuries it afforded the Western world.
Men who fell down and gave their lives so that we could stand up and live ours.
Boys (and many were boys, as young as 12-year-old Sidney Lewis who fought at the Battle of the Somme) who had their youth ripped away from them.
When I read about the things these people had to do — the sights, smells and sounds of a continent torn asunder by a combination of imperialism, nationalism and militarism — I can’t put quite into words the whirlwind of emotions I feel.
Respect, of course, is first: that someone (millions of someones) yesterday who I never knew and will never meet died so that millions may live today.
Mourning: over how those so essential to an era of unprecedented peace have been lost to the sands of time, sitting there amongst tens of thousands of other slate-grey shrines in some seldom-visited corner of a meadow in Europe.
Sadness: that I can’t shake the hands of these brave souls myself.
Perhaps I can’t, but that doesn’t mean I can’t thank them.
I do every year when I pin on that blood-red badge over my heart and observe local Remembrance Day ceremonies.
I’m not going to lie, this year’s controversy surrounding poppies really took its toll on me.
Not because I think we need to force people to wear them (wrong) or they’ve become an irrelevant symbol of the past (even more wrong), but because so much discussion now surrounds the symbol itself, and not the sacrifice of the veterans it symbolizes.
Maybe that’s the problem.
It was so long ago and we’re all so far removed from the event we associate the poppy as a metaphor for the First World War as a whole, instead of what it really is: a reminder that all we take for granted is because of the selfless actions of others.
The child you hold close at night.
The book you’re able to read freely on the bus.
The job you’re able to keep despite whatever race, religion or gender identity you profess.
Clearly one day of the year is no longer enough to remember: we need a Remembrance Month.
We should keep Nov. 11 as Remembrance Day, of course — just add another 29 days and call it an even month.
This would serve to make sure that a younger population never forgets the importance of veterans’ sacrifices.
As a bonus, it also could be used as a teaching experience.
As a former history student, I am adamant a fundamental understanding of the First and Second World Wars is essentially a modern-day understanding of just about everything from Serbian nationalism to how America was able to beat the USSR to the moon — don’t believe me? Just look up Operation Paperclip.
Instead of just calling November something like Remembrance Month let’s actually make an effort to educate kids about why the First and Second World Wars and why we honour the people who fought in it.
Let’s educate kids in Canada about battles such as Vimy Ridge (which, for all intents and purposes, was a battle we should not have won). Let’s explain to them why a maternity ward in Ottawa Civic Hospital was temporarily declared extraterritorial by the federal government for a few hours in 1943.
Let’s tell them about how Newfoundland lost 90 per cent of its Royal Newfoundland Regiment at the battle of Beaumont-Hamel and how this effort earned the regiment the designation of “Royal” by George V (an honour no other British regiment won during the First World War).
Each of these individuals was a hero in their own light, each of their efforts a small thread pinned in the tapestry of the West, like so many ruby poppies planted into the damp, cold earth.
Lest we forget.