Journal

“In Flanders Fields”

In the midst of WWI, while all the earth round Ypres lay ripped and torn, trees blown to kindling and men to less, a young Canadian soldier noticed clusters of blood-red poppies in full bloom, sprung from ground freshly turned for burials of his comrades.  John McCrae penned a poem that has become synonymous with WWI, and with our call to remember those fallen in all our wars.  He began:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,                                                 

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

Such a conundrum, those fragile, brilliant spots of color, surrounding miles of rat-infested trenches and barb-wired nests of death, and No Man’s Land.  Those poppies, waving bravely beside the graves of comrades, must have struck soldiers as out of time and place, more vibrant and alive than anything within their view.

I’ve wondered if they saw them as sacred drops of blood.  Or if they brought to mind cherished things—fresh gardens of home, the face of a sweetheart, the love of mother.  I’ve wondered if they felt mocked—brilliant, striking beauty in the face of death and carnage.  Or if they were the picture of just enough tranquility to help them through another day, another night, another day . . .   Or if they noticed them at all.

Young men, far from home, who’d answered a call for a war they barely understood—a war of destruction and consequences they could not have imagined.  What did they think?  McCrae’s poem continued:

We are the Dead.  Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.”

In the end, it is the image of the poppy that makes us pause, reflect, remember those fallen for our sakes, men and women we did not–often–know.  And not only those fallen, but those wounded, deprived of health or limb that we might live and speak and walk in freedom.

What treasure has been given! What debt we owe!  Since we cannot repay this debt in kind, we must find a way to embrace and lift high the life they preserved for us at cost of their own. “Pretty words” aren’t enough. Integrity, honor, one nation under God, freedom for all, “malice toward none,” strong families, great patriotism—none of these things are created or maintained through passivity.

This Memorial Day, as we make charitable donations, as we adorn lapels and t-shirts and handbags with red poppies, let us reflect, remember, and thank God for those men and women who’ve stood for us, who’ve fallen in our place.  And let us renew our determination to rebuild this country they fought for, upholding the landmarks of freedom and honor we were founded upon and hold dear.  McCrae finished:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.”

Nothing my garden grows is so poignant as the image of those poppies, or all they call to mind.  Let’s just sit awhile, remembering those we’ve loved and lost and honoring those we never knew, but owe so much.  Let’s talk about ways to capture that torch thrown our way, and “hold it high.”

I look forward to meeting you here, next week, in the garden.

God’s blessings for you,

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2 Comments

  • Many would use the horrors of war to say we shouldn’t fight. Yet, where would we be if our Founding Fathers had that attitude. In many cases, they sacrificed life, limb, and fortune for the cause of freedom.

    Freedom is not free.

    • Cathy Gohlke says:

      You’re right–“freedom is not free.” It’s far too easy to forget the cost of our freedom, and incumbent upon our generation to pass that wisdom to the next.

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