In Canada, there has been a bit of a hullabaloo about poppies. Not real poppies; the fake kind that people wear for Remembrance Day. One of our hockey commentators made remarks insisting that immigrants have a duty to buy poppies and there has been a huge blowback in response. The commentator lost his job with the broadcaster, and my Twitter feed talked of little else all Monday.
On Tuesday we heard more regrets, apologies, and messages excusing the words of a well-loved, national character. Outrage, though, seems to be the majority opinion. My sympathies are with those who were insulted, and I feel for anyone who has ever been referred to as “you people.” Today, however, I find myself reflecting on the fake poppy itself, and not on those who wear them.
I seem to remember that, when I was young, the poppies were made of soft fabric. I may be wrong about that, but that’s how they were in memory. The pin was long enough that you could weave it in and out of your lapel a couple of times so it would stay in place. Now, most of us don’t have lapels, the poppy is made of a sort of stiff paper or plastic, and the pin is shorter. So short, in fact, that the poppies fall out and are easily lost.
I understand that the need for mass production has probably caused decisions to be made in relation to costs, but I much preferred the fabric to the matte paper or hard plastic. It felt pleasing to the touch, and it looked less like a symbol and more like a representation of a flower.
We used to be given poppies as tokens of thanks in response to our donations to the local Legion. We weren’t buying poppies; we were giving money to support the organization that represented military veterans. In return, we were recognized for that with poppies. That’s not the same thing.
The poppy served the additional benefit of indicating to the people who collected the donations when people had already given to the cause. If you wore a poppy, you would not be stopped at every shop doorway by someone rattling a donation can.
As time has gone by, the significance of a poppy on one’s chest has changed. It is now seen as a symbol of patriotism and of one’s support for those who have fought on our behalf. Politicians of all stripes do not dare to be seen without one. Even their spouses must wear the symbol in early November. One of those spouses, the husband of one of Canada’s party leaders, was roundly criticized on television this week for wearing the poppy on his right breast instead of over his heart. It seems the rules around poppy-wearing have become quite particular, but I don’t remember when or why that happened.
If I do not wear a poppy it does not mean that I am not patriotic or that I don’t value the sacrifices of the military and their families. It just means I am not wearing a poppy. No-one knows if I have donated or not, and it’s really none of anyone’s business.
Actually, there is a strong possibility that if you see someone without a poppy in early November they may have had one and lost it. That is a much safer assumption than imagining that they don’t love their country or that they don’t value their freedoms.
Why don’t we all celebrate the freedom not to wear a poppy? I think many veterans would be ok with that. It’s not the symbol that they value; it’s the respect.