Flanders Fields Archives - St. Stephen's University


By 2016, Europe No Comments

In Flanders Fields, the Poppies Blow.

How many times have we heard that poem?

When I was in high school, I was part of a choir that every year would sing a haunting version of this poem that has since stuck with me. I wish that I could sing it to you through words alone, but I can’t.

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.

It is a strangely haunting poem. Poppies, growing up for me were always a mysterious flower that I only recognized by the pins so many of us dawn each November. But poppies grow everywhere in France; between cracks in the sidewalks and amidst soil that most other plans would die in.

I think that that’s the point of the poem. War is ugly. But beauty still manages to sneak through. Even amidst death, poppies manage to grow and larks still sing. To me it seems like such a juxtaposition.

We spent around a week in Northern France and had the privilege of visiting a number of WWI memorials including Flanders Fields and Vimy Ridge. They were beautiful places. Beautiful, with an ugly past.

One evening, a group of us visited a cemetery filled with tombs of men who died during WWI. Many of them were the same age as me. Many were younger—the youngest I found was 17.

And yet the cemetery was a strangely peaceful place. It reminded me that there is more to the story after these men died.

God still has the final say

And fortunately, he is much more merciful than man is to each other.

Despite something so ugly, beauty will sneak in between the cracks and grow.

Just like the poppies in Flanders Fields.


By 2011, Europe One Comment

The conclusion. The grand, so what? The point where we ask what the point was. Did we all just go on an extensive holiday? A spiritual pilgrimage? A big experiment in social dynamics? A cool photo/marketing opportunity for the school? How do you classify the crazy adventure we all shared in? And how are you supposed to quantify its value?

I am hesitant to call this trip ‘life changing.’ Educational – yes. Relationship building – I hope so. Thought provoking – definitely. But life changing? Doubtful. I’ve only been home two weeks and already the only tangible result of going to Europe is the homework. It is just too easy to slip back in to the same patterns of living and thinking. I hope though, that I can take away a new definition of normal. Or rather, a destruction of the concept of normal. You would think living in the big yellow house would be enough to convince a person that normality is an illusion, but apparently not. In the Vatican, I saw a fresco of a smashed Roman idol being replaced by a crucifix, and I was reminded that this is the reason Christianity seems ‘normal.’ In the colonies section of the British museum, I was reminded of why English is the ‘normal’ language, and why I expect that I can get by in all other European countries without bothering to learn more than a few phrases. The Uffizi and the Louvre were reminders of where our categories of good and bad art – and female beauty for that matter – are derived from. While learning about the darker parts of Reformation history, I wondered why it is so easy to believe our own doctrines and heroes are ‘normal,’ or, dare I say, infallible. Eastern Europe showed us a people for whom capitalism is not normal, although it is quickly becoming so. Visiting the Flanders Fields museum, we remembered that for many people, peace is not normal. And a feminist NGO worker in Brussels told us that just because a system is ‘normal,’ doesn’t mean it has to be.

So hopefully I learned something. Hopefully it makes a lasting difference. And hopefully I can learn to live without divisions of who is normal and who is not.


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