©Jane A. Simington, PhD. (Oct, 2012).
In countries around the world, every November 11, citizens stop and ponder the freedom they experience as a result of the sacrifices made by those who have served their country in the maintenance of peace and liberty. November 11th honors all living and dead Veterans for their patriotism and willingness to serve, and often despite great personal costs. In Canada, the day of honoring our veterans is known as Remembrance Day; in the United States it is Veterans Day. In many other countries this day is referred to as Armistice, for it marks the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended the hostilities of World War I.
It was believed that the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 at 11am (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month) was a declaration to end the “War to end all wars.” Sadly, the positive predictions for that day have not been the reality.
For many of us the search to find ways to end war and conflict has turned into a search for world peace. Peace symbols such as those of a dove carrying a green branch and the brilliant red poppy remind us of this quest.
The red poppy which is now closely associated with November 11th symbolizes the peace brought to the world by the veterans who served during WWI. These poppies bloomed across the battlefields of Flanders; their brilliant red color was thought to represent the blood spilt during the war.
The tradition of wearing a red poppy to commemorate our veterans on November 11th began when a Canadian medical officer, John McCrae wrote this famous poem (1915).
In Flanders Fields
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.
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.
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.”
His poem was published in Punch Magazine and by 1918, it was well known throughout the allied world. An American woman, Moina Michael, added her response.
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
Yet despite the poetry and symbolism, the search for world peace goes on.
As I pondered the reasons for the lack of peaceful outcomes that many believed would follow the signing of the Armistice, I recalled the words of the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He emphasized that the most essential practice of peace is the practice of nonattachment from what we believe to be absolute truth. In Living Buddha Living Christ he wrote:
Until there is peace between religions, there can be no peace in the world. People kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies. When we believe that ours is the only faith that contains the truth, violence and suffering will surely be the result.
Throughout Living Buddha, Living Christ, we are reminded not to be so narrow-minded as to think that our opinions and values are the only right ones. To gain world peace we must be open to the viewpoints of others, for there are many paths to the Divine. Exploring what others view as truth is not only a first step toward world peace, releasing judgment about the looks, behaviors, and beliefs of others is also an important aspect of inner peace, for acceptance allows us to hold feelings of tranquility instead of anger and resentment.
Inner peace is often symbolized by a dove carrying a green branch. I like to believe the green branch is an offering of acceptance of, and to, others. When we experience inner peace we automatically support others in their discovery of this depth of peace for themselves and by extension we contribute to creating a more peace-filled world – one human being at a time. As more and more of us dwell in inner peace and extend that to all of humankind, we not only contribute to world peace we also help to heal our world. Marcus Aurelius noted that, “He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”
As November 11th approaches and as we near the end of 2012, there is a great need to hear and respond to his wisdom and to heed the Great Cry to live in oneness with each other and with the universe. We must once again acknowledge as Chief Seattle did:
All things are connected – like the blood that unites one family.
When we transform ourselves we transform everything around us. When we live in peace we radiate peace. From this place we can send peace blessings. In sending peace-blessings, we become an active participant in transforming the social, cultural, religious, and spiritual practices around us, which opens the gates for wholeness to again be honored. To transform in the direction of inner peace is to acknowledge that healing ourselves and working toward world peace and Human-Earth ecology is the same work. It is recognition of the Divine within All. It is to affirm that the “Earth is Christos, is Buddha, is Allah, is Gaia.”
As you ponder ways to honor the veterans and their families who have sacrificed much so we may live with peace and freedom, also ponder your part in making sure that those who have died for this cause know that you have taken up the torch and that you radiate so brightly that it ignites the spark of inner peace for multitudes, regardless of race, culture or religious belief.
On November 11, make sure that our veterans know how deeply you appreciate the sacrifices they have made. Let at least one veteran know of your gratefulness and of how their journey has prompted your journey toward radiating peace.