Living in the question

'. . . the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.' RAINER MARIA RILKE Letters to a Young Poet

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The question of Remembrance and the White Poppy

Each year as rembrance day approaches I feel a great cloud hanging over me as I try to think how I shall prepare the service.  Then comes the question of the poppy - red or white or even do I wear one at all.  The problem comes because essentially I am a pacifist and I do not under any circumstances condone entering voluntarily into war.  That does not mean that I condemn fighting to defend, but declaring war then no.  This can be a problem on Remembrance day, because many of my congregation will have different views and I do need to respect their views on a day that can be heavy with memories and emotion.  I tend to solve the poppy dilema by wearing both (and I will not compromise on that - if the expectation is that I should wear a red poppy then I will also wear the white one.) 
This year a poet/songwriter, Don Parry, offered to come and share some of his poetry as part of the service.  He brought along a friend, Bill, who read two of the poems and Don played an accompaniment on his guitar.  The poems moved from a reflection of his Grandfathers'memories (a survivor of Galipoli and the First World War) set against his own experiences, through a poem callied Poppies Requiem into a final piece called Hope Lies Bleeding.  They moved through memories of war to considering the reasons behind war today and looked towards the subject of peace and love so helped me once again to fill the hour in a way that would respect the memories of those who need the traditional remembrance and those who like me want to think about peace.

Sunday evening also happened to be poetry evening at The Baum, so it became a day filled with poetry and I was determined that I should have some offering of my own to read and reflecting on the dilema of preparing for the day I wrote this:

Remembrance Day 2011                              by Gillian Peel


The day is here again when
I decide to wear the white or red
to say the words they want to hear. . .
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old”
“We will remember them.”
But what of those not remembered
my heart screams out. . .
The innocents that fall
on both sides there are rights and wrongs
and we all pray to the same God anyway. . .
if we pray at all.

In my heart I wear just one
the white
symbol of peace
not the red that’s tainted with blood
“How we remember, shapes who we are”
And I want to remember well.
Not just those who fought the battle
but those who were slain
and those left to mourn. . .
All those touched by war
then and now.

But I am who I am
And today, once more, I have to decide. . .
And I wear them both
Side by side.

For the second half of the evening - because the Baum is in Toad Lane the home of the original Co-op and because Rochdale Clover Street Unitarian Chapel was known as the Co-op chapel I chose to read the following poem.

"Letter to a dead husband: 11 November 1933"

Blessed are the peacemakers
Dear Arthur
Just wanted to let you know
that I’ve joined the Co-op women’s guild,
that we’re making white poppies for peace...
It started when Miss Millar
made her own, from white paper
and ribbons - we copied her.
She says we’re carrying
‘cargoes of grief on our cardigans
in memory of husbands, sons, sweethearts...’
We still respect the red,
honour the dead - but have
made our pledge, no more war!
It's a bit radical though;
last week my friend Ivy Brown
lost her job ’cos she wore one.
You remember years ago
in church when we had our banns called
when the vicar read from Isaiah
nation shall not lift up
sword against nation
neither shall they make war anymore
well that's what this is about see.
Us women believe in peace,
that war shouldn't happen anymore;
This Armistice Day I wear it for you Arthur
even though it's fifteen years
since you've been gone.
I wear it for all the rainbows
you will never see, our beautiful daughter
you will never kiss
- the sons we never had.
Your loving wife

-- Denise Bennett

So many people don't realise that the white poppy has been around so long - they think it is a new thing but of course it isn't.
 I know that each year I will be faced with these same questions and equally I know I shall continue to wear my white poppy.