Today is Remembrance Day in Canada and many other countries around the world. This day is all about a complicated thing: war. But the reason that we celebrate it is very simple: to remember those who made sacrifices so that we would not have to do the same.
In wars such as World War I and World War II—as well as many other conflicts over the years—many men and women served in our country's armed forces. And a great number of them died doing so. Perhaps some of them were a part of your own family. Others who fought and survived the war—called veterans—still have memories that are difficult. No one should ever have to experience battle.
Being grateful for peace
That is why Remembrance Day—and Veterans Day, as today is known in the United States—is such an important holiday. People should never lose sight of just how lucky they are to not be fighting in a war. And they should never forget to respect what veterans did for us.
In fact, even the recent presidential election is a good example of why this day—and peace—means so much. That was a very close and intense election. People on both sides are still feeling strong emotions about what happened. Even anger. But the United States is not having a war over it. Instead, yesterday, President Obama sat down with President-elect Trump and the two of them discussed how to peacefully transfer power from one leader to the other. Things haven't always been this way. And things still aren't this way in some parts of the world. Peace is a gift to protect and cherish.
The poppy and Flanders fields
As you walk around today, you'll notice many people wearing red flowers called poppies on their coats. You might have one yourself. The poppy became a symbol of remembrance after World War I ended. (Remembrance Day also began as a holiday around this time — November 11th, 1918 was Armistice Day, the day fighting ended in WWI.) The use of the poppy was inspired by a poem by a Canadian soldier in the war, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.
McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields on May 3, 1915, after the funeral of a fellow soldier and friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. The poem contains the lines:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
Flanders is a region in Belgium, where many battles were fought. Many soldiers were also buried here. And in between their grave sites, poppies grew. McCrae himself did not survive the war. But his poem did. It became one of the most popular poems of the 20th century, and it made the poppy an international symbol. Wearing one tells others that you're thinking about these things. It tells people that you'll never forget.
Yesterday, another great Canadian poet (and songwriter), Leonard Cohen, passed away at the age of 82. We can't think of a better way to remember all the things that are important today than by hearing him recite In Flanders Fields. A peaceful Remembrance Day, everyone.