I was coming home from somewhere last week and was waiting for my bus at Main Station. Since I'd come in from the streetcar instead of up from the subway, it took me a while to notice that standing alone in the middle of the station was an elderly gentleman; and it kinda looked like standing was a challenge for him. He had his back to me and at first I thought he was waiting for someone. But then he swivelled a little bit and I saw that in fact he was a veteran handing out poppies.
I'd seen people wearing poppies out and about but hadn't had a chance to get mine yet. So I went over to him, dropped a couple of toonies in the box. We murmured "thank you" to each other as he presented me with the poppy and I went back over to my bus corner and pinned the poppy on.
A man who was also waiting for my bus saw me pinning the poppy and then spotted the veteran. He hastily dug out some change and went over to the old man. And someone waiting for another bus saw him and started digging for change.
It was like the wave at the football game, but slower and with more change involved. Within minutes, one at a time, every person at our end of the station made their way over to the veteran. And I mean every single person; every age, every skin colour, business people, punk teens, grandmothers, little kids. Some people gave bills, others let their young children drop change into the box. People coming up from the subway saw us with our poppies and went straight to the source. No one really said too much, just "thank you, sir"; it was a sacred ritual, like receiving communion. One man saluted and the veteran saluted right back.
The old veteran pinned the poppy on every gentleman's lapel, even if the gentleman in question was 14, wearing a baseball cap sideways and had no lapel. He presented the poppy to every lady as if it (and she) were a single, perfect rose, whether if she was wearing a business suit or stilettos and a crop top. By the time my bus came, there wasn't a person there who wasn't wearing red. And it was powerful.
I imagine that it had been happening that way all day; the old soldier would stand there quietly, holding a poppy. One person would start the trend and then the station would fill with poppies, then empty, then fill again.
I've never met anyone who fought in WWI. Both my grandfathers, the one who died on my birthday this year and the one who did not, fought in WWII. The veterans of both those wars are all getting on and I know that I wondered and worried that, in their absence, Remembrance Day might lose some of its significance. That the cynicism around current military situations would encourage us to minimize the very real sacrifice that soldiers and their families are making. That we'd somehow all forget "In Flanders Fields" and that we'd all go back to using the poppies as velvety lips, like we did in elementary school.
But as I watched my fellow Torontonians, young and old, silently and reverently pin those poppies on, I ceased to worry. We do remember. And we will continue to remember those who have made and are making those sacrifices.
So . . . I just wanted to say thank you to all those women and men who served and are still serving. And thank you to the veteran at Main Street Station last week, who enabled me to share a powerful moment with a bunch of strangers. My poppy and I salute you.