Around the world, people prayed Armistice Day 1918 would bring peace and tolerance
|"Today we see RED," the old man said. "Particularly in the late morning."
"Ohh, that's right!" The child was frowning, eyes tightened, obviously summoning up a memory buried beneath the myriad experiences and wonderment of childhood. "We learned about this in school last year. It's the uhrr—"
"Eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year, and—
"We WILL Remember Them, " the child shouted in a triumphant, ringing tone, small face aglow now as his own remembrance surfaced.
"We will surely never forget our heroes and their precious gift — LIFE with all its amazing possibilities." And the old man cast his eyes down to the row of medals on his chest. And despite himself, couldn't stop a single tear rolling down that withered cheek. Unselfish soul that he was, he'd never considered himself a hero. He saved that accolade for all the mates and too many other unknown souls who never came home except in hastily assembled wooden boxes. And the live ones who had left precious pieces of themselves over there, so far from home… not only the body bits, but huge chunks of mind, heart and soul. Too often that turned out to be the far greater price to pay, the most difficult (if not impossible) damage to heal… being unforgettable.
The child's face had fallen again. Increasingly, the old man's moods resonated with him… all too accurately, most times. Unrelated by family ties or similar heredity, they were in reality, about as opposite as Life could make them. A black Baptist and a white Lutheran. A poor old pensioner barely making ends meet these days, and the golden-haired son of a wealthy family. When they'd met at the soup kitchen — the boy doing his small bit to help, collecting the used bowls — they found an instant rapport. They were soul-mates, this unlikely pair.
With a brow furrowing even deeper, the child asked, "But RED? I thought that was the colour of something not so good, sometime way back?"
The old man smiled and nodded, "Well, you're right about the 'way back' stuff… there were those Commie lot that used red as their symbol. The world was never too flash about them and their carrying-ons. He couldn't stop himself from ruffling the boy's blonde hair every now and then. So silky. So fine. It gave him pleasure… always comparing it to his own crinkly, coarse hair.
"But the REAL red I'm thinking about is the Red Poppies that are the symbol of Remembrance Day around the world. This humble flower was chosen because after the fierce fighting and bombing in France, the first living thing to grow in the barren, shattered wasteland was the Red Poppy. And the hope was born that peace would surely follow such a wonderful new beginning." Another wayward tear or two slid down those wrinkled chasms in his cheeks, and this time it was necessary for the old man to pull out a crumpled tissue.
The child was crestfallen. "But it didn't make peace happen, did it? There's been lots more wars." Unable to answer due to a sudden constriction in his throat, the old man couldn't stop a quiet moan. It was NOT in vain, my old mates. And he commanded the boy to observe a minute's silence to thank the heroes and pray for that peace they had given their all for at the end of World War One, the optimistic Armistice Day after the terrible battle ending at 11 a.m. on the 11th November 1918. And he gave the child a copy of the famous poem (written out in his somewhat shaky old hand-writing of today) —
In Flanders Fields — by John McCrae
In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' Fields.