On 11.11.11 at 11:00 I stood still, in a tube station underneath the city of London, with a few other momentarily stranded travelers while a sea of other visitors and locals swirled past us. It was a rush of stale-but-swirling breeze, winter scarves flapping and red poppies punctuating a plethora of white tile. Some remembered. Some passed by. It was a quiet few minutes for a few of us to mark the time when the armistice ending World War I actually went into effect.
Remembrance Day. Poppy Day. Armistice Day. So many names which I had seen on billboards, buses and in advertisements. Seen, and not understood initially.
I would later walk the paths surrounding Westminster Abbey, the Field of Remembrance, and feel nothing at first. A sea of red poppies would blend together with light wood crosses, fall leaves interrupting military tributes to rest on names penned illegibly. Names of those who surrendered their lives in military service to their country, never to return to their families and loved ones. It was a scene that couldn’t shake me.
Then, I remembered. My brother, who serves in the United States Air Force far away from those who worry for his safety. My friends, who gave their lives in service in various branches of the military in all sorts of places far from anywhere I have ever been — some, before I was even a graduate of university. “Please remember those who don’t return.” It’s a quote used by The Poppy Appeal. Perhaps as an American I had no place participating in any part of November 11th or even writing about it now. What British soldier have I lost?
Other travelers to London during the time Britains wear red poppies on their lapels may find themselves confused. I was. I didn’t even know what they symbolized until I took the time to do a little, simple research.
When 11.11.11 was into the second half of its waking hours and I was standing at the edge of the churchyard outside Westminster, I couldn’t deny my blurred vision was less like something from a Dali painting and more like, well, tears. Real feeling. The overarching cause of Remembrance Day is one I do understand. While war isn’t something I am comfortable with, it still is a personal chapter in the story of my life as an American. The end of World Wars my grandfather fought in, something I can be thankful for. What if he hadn’t fought or those wars hadn’t ended … What if my brother (I can’t finish that thought) …
Loss eventually touches all our lives. It’s a tent pole of life on earth. In every country.
Perhaps you will never experience the loss and suffering war can cause. I venture you can still understand why remembrance is vital. And universal. Symbolized by poppies or quietly experienced alone. Remembrance is important.
Header photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.