A few years ago I planted annual poppy seeds in my garden. That summer I had a luscious display of gorgeous red flowers to look at from my front window. And the next year. And the next year. And this year. Once you have a poppy, you always have poppies. The seeds of poppies, like the seeds of hope, spread wide and determinedly.
In the opening decades of the 20th Century, people spoke of World War I as “the war to end all wars.”
The hopeful words showed disbelief that war of such horrifying magnitude could ever happen again. Now, almost 100 years later, we almost grimace at the naiveté. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Syria, the Sudan, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq, drug wars, mafia kills, gang troubles . . . the list goes on. How can we not feel exasperated and want to give up hope? It’s easy to believe that our spears and swords will never be beaten into ploughshares. How is it possible that all weapons to take life will be transformed into weapons to give life?
But “Hope dies last.”
I came across that Russian proverb in The Tiger by John Vaillant, and it rumbled around in my brain this week, because it applies so aptly to Remembrance Day. Soldiers in muddy trenches hoped to live. Nurses and doctors tending the wounded hoped for fewer casualties. Families waiting at home hoped to see loved ones again. Some soldiers died. Nurses and doctors wept at the endless rows of moaning wounded. Some mothers crumpled with grief when handed heartless telegrams.
In every case, their hope was the last thing to die.
But soldiers lived. The rows of wounded came to an end. Teary-eyed mothers clung to returning sons or daughters. Poppy seeds churned up by cannon wheels and horse hooves blossomed as a symbol of hope for “Never Again.”
That is why a time to remember the horrors of war and to set a collective mindset toward peace is so important. When we, with our poppies, stand in silence on Remembrance Day, we hope for a little more peace. We hope for one fewer life lost. We hope.