I live just outside the city where John McCrae was born. The week of Remembrance Day, I always try to take a few minutes to stop by the small house where he was born. It now houses a museum that commemorates his life. McCrae is probably best known for scribbling a thirteen line poem on a scrap of paper, following the horror he had seen at Ypres.
"One can see the dead lying there on the front field," McCrae wrote ‘And in places where the enemy threw in an attack, they lie very thick on the slopes of the German trenches." He worked on the bank of the Yser Canal, dressing hundreds of wounded. At times the dead and wounded actually rolled down the bank from above his dugout. Other times, while awaiting the arrival of batches of wounded, he would watch the men at work in the burial plots which were quickly filling up. Finally, McCrae and his unit were relieved and he wrote home: "We are weary in body and wearier in mind. The general impression in my mind is one of a nightmare".
Today, I remember the dead, those who "lived, felt dawn, [and] saw sunset glow". Those, who innocently and not so innocently, were drawn into the vortex of the nightmare of war. My own history is complex — I would generally place myself among those who seek for peace at all costs, yet my own family has been deeply touched and helped by war. Some were liberated from Westerbork by Canadian soldiers, others died in the horrors of Auschwitz, Terezin and Bergen-Belsen. These are central to my remembering as well.
Perhaps more than anything though, I remember our weeping God, who as an anguished parent lamented, "Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave them their knowledge in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father, but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;".
My poppy reminds me to strive to use my agency wisely, to work for peace and most of all to remember God’s love for his children and His eternal hopes that we will learn to keep His commandment to love each other. Today as I pin it to my coat, and brave the cold November winds, I will remember.