Blood red poppies

Remembrance Day

Every year, as October transitions into November, I go in search of a new red poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day on November 11. It is a tradition in my family and across Canada to append the crimson flower to our lapel as a reminder of the bloody sacrifices made a century ago.

I also wear it to honour my great-grandfather Francis Sowden, who came home from the Great War, unlike so many others, including siblings on my great-grandmother’s side who are sadly just names without faces to me so many years later.

I am one of few in my generation to have known Francis Sowden.

I am one of few in my generation to have known Francis Sowden.

Recently, I have heard people complain that the commemorative symbol of the poppy has been co-opted by those who want to hail it as a symbol of the glory of serving in the military, if not actually the glory of war itself. This bothers me.

I greatly thank all those who have, do and will serve in the military both in Canada and abroad, many risking their lives to keep others safe. Although I was an unthinking idiot in my youth, I have learned that these people, while frail humans, are noble titans who see conflict as a last resort.

For all that nobility, however, the poppy must remain a separate symbol.

A painting from the Royal Ontario Museum that haunts my dreams. (sadly, I cannot remember artist)

A painting from the Royal Ontario Museum that haunts my dreams. (sadly, I cannot remember artist)

The poppy reminds us of the horrific toll of war. It is a crimson stain upon our lapels that taints us all and reminds us of the fragility of the peace that surrounds us. The bloody hue taunts our civilized smugness with a warning of how easily we can fall into the pit of violence, whether as individuals, communities or countries.

While we wear the blood red poppy to honour the fallen of World War I, we also wear it as a badge of shame that the war ever took place, and that the war to end all wars wasn’t.

This dual purpose must never be diminished. We must strive to be better.

And next year, as October transitions into November, I will go in search of a new red poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day on November 11.

I will never forget.

A cemetery near my home reminds me of the sacrifices

A cemetery near my home reminds me of the sacrifices

Blood and name calling

He ain’t half heavy, he’s my half-brother – The Adopted Hollies

If you haven’t got a penny, then half a penny’ll do. If you haven’t got a ha’ penny, then God bless you. – some British thing (not the Hollies)

I read an article this weekend that described the murder of a man by his half-brother. Normally, I don’t read these kinds of stories, but I was drawn to this one because of the phrase half-brother, which made me wonder why this phrase was still in common use.

What the hell is a half brother? (Shawn, Scott, me)

What the hell is a half brother? (Shawn, Scott, me)

I appreciate that historically there may have been a reason to keep track of who one’s siblings were from a legacy perspective. Family homes and farms (and for the wealthy, estates) possibly hung in the balance when Dad died…although I question how often this was a concern. And no self-respecting Shakespearean comedy or drama would be complete without an evil half-brother. But why now?

To quote the Bard:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

Likewise, to quote Merriam-Webster:

Blood (n): the fluid that circulates in the heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins of a vertebrate animal carrying nourishment and oxygen to and bringing away waste products from all parts of the body.

So again, I ask why the fixation on a surname and the concept of blood ties?

The last time blood ties mattered

The last time blood ties mattered

I never knew my father—not something I take personally; just a fact—and so I have no particular attachment to my last name aside from convenience and familiarity. I feel no compunction to continue the family name. Other people have the surname of Willis…let them continue it if they want.

And my brothers and I only share one common parent—our mom—and so have different surnames. Does this make them any less my brothers, however, than a pair of siblings who shared the genetic legacy of the same pair of parents (pairents)? Not for me (you’d have to ask them their perspectives on this).

For the famous, an argument can be made that sharing DNA somehow opens doors from one generation to the next: Ken Griffey Jr., Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Kennedy Jr., Paris Hilton.

Not sure how that last one works

Not sure how that last one works

But in most of those cases, sustained success comes from inherent talent and drive, not simply DNA. (I still don’t understand why Paris Hilton is famous.) Likewise, for every case of possible nepotistic success, there are hundreds or thousands of cases of success despite lineage (no disrespect to parents anywhere).

Perhaps I am the anomaly on this, but I simply don’t understand the importance of the nomenclature to who I am as an individual or how I respond to a family member versus a close non-genetically linked person (aka friend).

Agah, Nicholas and Marsha are my siblings despite the lack of genetic links

Agah, Nicholas and Marsha are my siblings despite the lack of genetic links

Scott and Shawn are my brothers more for our shared experiences than because of any genetic connection, much as Agah and Nicholas are my brothers and Marsha my sister for our shared affection and experiences.

Call me Ishmael, for all I care…if we are good friends, you have likely called me worse.

In the meantime, I’ll use my bloodlines to circulate oxygen to tissues and white cells to fight infection.

Brothers...no half-measures

Brothers…no half-measures

My preferred quote:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition: