The Poppy: A Fluid Symbol for Hope
November 11th is a day of solemnity, reflection and thankfulness for one’s freedom. Leading up to this day, red poppies adorn the coats, hats and shirts of thousands of people around the world and in Canada we feel a particular connection to this flower and the poem In Flander’s Fields by John McCrae- a fellow Canadian. I had always thought that the poppy had a unified meaning amongst us all but by asking two simple questions to several people during the Week of Remembrance I was pleasantly surprised that the poppy means many different things to different people. All the people I talked to however stressed the importance of remembering how lucky we are to live in a free country. This inspired me to write a short photographic essay in which I asked my subjects answer two questions:
1. What does the poppy mean to you?
2. Who do you wear a poppy for?
As people talked about the poppy and its importance, much wisdom was divulged. It’s clear that my subjects were proud of the symbol and open to talking deeply about it.
1. To Marie, a poppy means blood, sweat, tears and freedom. It means being very proud to be a Canadian.
2. Marie wears a poppy for her grandpa who was in the trenches in France during World War I. She says it’s amazing that he survived all the trials that he did and so wearing a poppy is to honor his memory and how the brave fought to keep our country free.
1. For Ken, wearing a poppy means being aware that time is an illusion. He stresses the idea that wars and events that have happened in the past are still with us today and need to be remembered. We cannot forget these events that should not have happened.
2. Ken wears a poppy due to several connections. His grandfather, uncle and cousins all fought in world wars, making him feel connected to the symbol of the poppy.
1. Unification is the key behind the poppy for Lucy. While many stress the freedom of their particular country, Lucy, hailing from Britain, indicated unification of all mankind as the meaning of the poppy for her.
2. Lucy wears her poppy for all of those who have sacrificed and lost their lives in war.
1. To Don, a poppy means honoring the sacrifices of the armed forces. He says it is meaningful because it is a symbol of the sacrifices of these people for the freedom we enjoy today.
2. Don wears a poppy for his three cousins who fought. One was killed in Germany one week before the war ended. One was a paratrooper. One, whom Don had lived with, was in the navy.
1. Nate’s mom says the meaning of a poppy is remembrance. We must remember the past and pass it on to future generations so that it is never forgotten. This is why Nate is wearing a poppy at such a young age.
2. Nate’s mom gives Nate a poppy to show the respect of younger generations for older ones.
1. “They mean just about everything.” For Tina, it means being a Canadian and remembering the old in order to appreciate the new.
2. Tina wears her many poppies for the kids. She is a crossing guard in Aylmer and wearing poppies inspires the kids to ask about their meanings. This is important for commemorating the past.
1. For Bruce the poppy is a symbol of people who sacrificed their lives and efforts in war for us.
2. Bruce wears the poppy for anybody in general and particularly for the armed forces.
1. The poppy means blood and sacrifice. He explains that they were all over the western front and connects this with the story of John McCray finding the remains of his dear friend Alex Helmer which inspired McCray to write his epic poem. Robin says that if you’re aware of war you’re wearing it all the time. It might not be on your sleeve, but you’re wearing it.
2. Robin wears a poppy for every vet in every war and people suffering through war today. More specifically, he wears it for veteran and dear friend of his, Bill Findley who passed away on November 2nd of this year.
1. Harry told me that a poppy means freedom. For him it is that simple because without being freed by the British, he wouldn’t be around anymore.
2. Harry was born in Holland in 1935 and miraculously survived the duration of World War II. He proudly wears his poppy for his aunt and her seven children who died during the war.
So what have I learned from all this? In many ways, the meaning of the poppy has stayed largely the same for me. It’s a symbol of freedom and respect for all those affected by war both today and in the past. It’s confirmation that studying history is in fact worth while even for the simple accomplishment of enabling people to remember the past. I wear a poppy proudly in order to support PEACE. In my hippie ways I don’t support all wars of course but I respect those who have laid down their lives for the betterment of our future. I wear the poppy in hopes that we can learn from our past mistakes and from past events to secure a more peaceful and war-free future.