On being ... on edge

By Ingrid Sapona

November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada. It’s a day we honour Canadian forces, particularly those who have died in foreign wars. The date is significant because it marks the date fighting in World War I stopped. Canada lost over 66,000 servicemen and women in WWI – almost one third more than it lost in WWII.

In the U.S., November 11th is Veteran’s Day, which is also to honour vets. As I first noted in an On being … in November 2010, Remembrance Day has a very different feel than Veteran’s Day. Here, for example, at 11a.m. that day most Canadians observe a moment of silence. As well, in the days leading up to the 11th you see a proliferation of red poppy lapel pins. Millions of people wear them on their coats and jackets to honour and support veterans. The pins represent the poppies that emerged from the undisturbed earth of the battlefields and cemeteries of Flanders. Wearing a poppy is a simple gesture but it speaks volumes to Canadians and to those in other Commonwealth countries.

About a week before Remembrance Day a news story broke about Whole Foods employees not being allowed to wear Remembrance Day poppies at work. When asked by media outlets why, the company “explained” that it honours Remembrance Day in other ways, but its dress code prohibits any additions to the company’s standard uniform, other than for items required by law.

The day this story emerged I was running errands. When I heard it on the radio, I was enraged. Alone in my car, I yelled at the radio, railing about the ignorance of the U.S.-based company. How could they do business here and yet be so ignorant of what the poppy means to Canadians? The poppy doesn’t have any political significance, nor is it a symbol of protest. It’s simply a symbol of remembrance. Didn’t they get that? There aren’t many Whole Foods stores here in Canada (only 14 across the country), but from that moment on, I promised myself I’d never shop there again and I planned on urging friends to boycott the store as well.

As the story unfolded, it was clear I wasn’t the only person appalled by Whole Foods’ decision. The most vocal critic was Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford – a bombastic Conservative who I almost never see eye-to-eye with. When Ford heard about Whole Foods’ position, he urged the company to apologize and reverse its decision. And then, when Whole Foods made it clear it would not reverse its policy, he vowed to introduce legislation prohibiting any company from banning the wearing of poppies at work during Remembrance week.

Hearing Ford’s comment I literally cheered him on. Not only that, I relished the thought of what he might name that bill. You see, the Ford government has a penchant for attaching absurd names to bills. Here are just a few examples: “Bill 100, Protecting What Matters Most Act (Budget Measures), 2019; Bill 224, No Time to Waste Act (Plan for Climate Action and Jobs), 2020; Bill 221, Exalting Our Veterans Act, 2020; Bill 171, Building Transit Faster Act, and so on. How about: The FU Whole Foods Act of 2020?

Later that day I mentioned the Whole Foods poppy story to a friend. He hadn’t heard about it. I explained Whole Foods’ tremendous cultural insensitivity, but gleefully noted that Ford would help them see the error of their ways. My friend – a Conservative – agreed that the store’s policy was ridiculous, but he didn’t think we need legislation about it. To be honest, what shocked him the most was my unequivocal support of Ford and his idea of passing a law about wearing poppies. I admitted it was unusual to be on the same side of an issue as Premier Ford, but it was a testament to how angry I was by Whole Foods’ attitude.

After speaking with my friend, I started thinking about why I had such a strong reaction. Was I over-reacting? Was my reaction really all about the poppies? I think it was … but still, perhaps it was stronger than it should have been.

A few days later (Nov. 7th), I got an email from a friend in Scotland. She sent a screen shot of a news alert she had just received on her phone that said the Associated Press called the presidential race in favour of Biden. In the email she commented that she was in the grocery store when the alert came in and that, as she read it, she found herself in tears. Then she added, “I hadn’t realised the fear I was feeling that Trump might win.”

Her words really rang a bell with me. Beyond agreeing with her joy that Biden had finally (albeit unofficially) been declared the winner, we both understood that her uncontrolled tears were a subconscious release of pressure that had been building up. That, in turn, made me wonder whether my (over)reaction to the Whole Foods story was like her tears – a way of venting fears and anxieties I’ve been harbouring about the election and the pandemic.

I decided to write about this because I’m sure there are others out there like me and my friend – folks who are generally coping ok, but who may be caught by surprise by the depth of their reactions. If you find yourself reacting to something in ways that seem unusual, perhaps you’re more on edge than you realize.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona 


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