On one of my usual speed runs through the city centre on another never ending mission to get things off a never ending list I stopped, briefly, to buy a poppy. Although amidst this insane bustle there was something in the way these old men stood made me stop for a moment. Smartly dressed and upright, shaking a tin, largely ignored by the people walking passed and I thought to myself “I wonder what they think about us?”.
These men held something special, something that we don’t seem to understand. These men were willing to fight and die for a country that now largely, it seems, ignores them. Forced to raise money for an appeal that shouldn’t be a second thought. In my line of work I often get to hear a lot about war-time stories. The incredible strength that women of that time had in order to hold a family together not knowing if tonight their homes would be bombed, their kids would be harmed, their husbands would be killed. The bravery of the men, ill trained and sent to a ditch to fight line by line walking over the dead bodies of their friends and fellow officers. And here these men stood in front of me, hoping that someone would put some cash in a small box and have a poppy pinned to their jacket. I wouldn’t disgrace these men by feeling pity for them but I know that some of them feel pity for us. To have so little love for the country that holds you, to not know who your neighbours are, to ignore a stranger being beaten up or robbed.
But I don’t want this to be about how bad things are. Pick up a newspaper and there’s enough of it in there. I want this to be about what we can learn. I love my country, I love this soil, I love the sky above us and the sea that surrounds us. We have a beautiful idea. A place where people have access to free healthcare, a place where a legal system strives toward justice, a place where even if you’re out of work there are systems in place that help prevent you from going hungry. I’m not saying that these systems are perfect but the idea of them is what I want to promote and perpetuate. The idea of them is in some way ingrained in who we are, it wouldn’t hurt us so much when these systems go wrong if it wasn’t.
I stood and watched these men, their grace, their presence and their lesson to teach us. After everything they have faced, after each injustice from their government, community, press, legal system, being told their poppy is “offensive”, being made to feel obsolete. We built this country on their backs, on their sacrifice, on their sweat and tears and here they stand. Smiling, willing to teach us. It’s just our job to be willing to learn.