When I first moved to Canada, I was surprised by the red poppy pins worn around Remembrance Day. News anchors and politicians pinned them to their lapels, as did Vancouverites of all stripes. Walking down the street, I’d see scattered red dots coming toward me and smile to myself.
Initially I attended Remembrance Day ceremonies, solemn, traditional, and patriotic, but in a low-key Canadian way. I listened to the vaguely familiar words of In Flanders Fields, a poem close to Canada’s heart and memorized by schoolchildren here. I liked the numerical elegance of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Growing up in Hawaii, Memorial Day, in terms of military veterans, didn’t resonate strongly with me. The last Monday in May mostly marked the start of summer. As an adult in Berkeley, California, especially in the late 2000s, patriotism was a complicated concept (and fallen soldiers served as symbols of a misguided administration).
In Vancouver that first year, my eyes were wide open. Remembrance Day in Canada was different from Memorial Day in the USA. I noticed and appreciated those red dots coming toward me. Now, less than five years later, I don’t see them with the same sharpness.
Why? Is it the human condition to become blind to the familiar? Must I grow jaded when novelty disappears? Can I train myself to see with fresh eyes?
Image: poppy pin, Cafe Maplethorpe blog