Are these poppies?
"Yes," he said. "Do you want to hear a story about them?"
He liked to say he was older than dirt. He truly was, I believe.
"I remember the dead," he said.
"There was an invisible soldier. It was long ago, before you and all of your people. He wasn't really invisible," he continued, leaning in with a smile. "But sometimes people think they are one thing or another when they are not. Do you know you are like that? You remind me of him. He was brave. Who am I kidding? He was naive. That works too, you know," then a subtle nod as if he were recalling something specific, and back to the story.
"His name is unimportant, to you, but its meaning is central to the story. Lion-hearted. He had no fear. He was obedient. If he had an order he followed it. You are like that, getting better each time," he nodded again and smiled. "Lion, I'll call him."
He went on, "Lion was stick thin when he was a child. He was not only small, he felt small. He felt insignificant, invisible, tiny. His voice was a peep. His toys were small. His heart was small. His imagination was small. Oh, but he wanted to be a hero, to fight and overcome."
He paused for a moment.
"No one else saw him coming," he chuckled. "But I did. I was the only one aware of his capabilities. He was not invisible to me!"
He hit his chest like a proud ape. It made me laugh.
"I'd been on patrol that day with the men. The enemy was hiding all around. They were giant. My men were not. But their size made the enemy easy to see and I watched them. They surrounded us, plotting and planning, waiting, thinking. It would be to no avail, I knew, because at the crucial moment the enemy would not move ahead. They would remain cemented in place and my men would march on by, step by step, without realizing how close they'd been. It can be a good thing not to know. Knowing is sometimes just a distraction."
I nodded. I still didn't know what happened.
He smiled, "I'm getting to that."
With a glint in his eye, he continued, "Lion was the first to see the soldiers, some wounded, some already dead. They were stacked. Yes, stacked. Someone had done this deliberately. They were dragged and placed and unable to move unless the one on top sprang to life. The message was clear: fear us. I saw my men, one by one, assume fear. It blinded them and they began to scatter and search for cover. But not Lion. He couldn't reach the man on top. He couldn't move the man on the bottom. He could not see around them or past them or through them. Lion closed his eyes, bowed his head, and said a prayer in a small, tiny, stick thin voice that became stronger with each word. He was shaking when he started, but not when he finished.
'What are you doing,' one of his men hissed from the safety of an overturned tree.
Another added, 'Stop!'
'Why?' Lion asked.
Why indeed? Why stop?
He pointed to a tall tree in the distance. It was standing upright.
"That's the one they hid under," he said, assuring me it was true. "It was one of the things changed by Lion's prayers. First, healing for the man holding all the others down, then for the others. One by one. There was hardly a break between his prayers for the injured and for those who were only hiding. Tiny, lion-hearted Lion stood and prayed even when the enemy returned, even when the firing started again, even when the dead soldiers stood up and the living ones snapped back into place, as if their injuries had propelled them. His men began to stand with him, only some of them at first, and then, when they realized the enemy could not hurt them, the others; not bravely, to be sure, but obediently, and each of them became brave because of it."
He paused and asked me if I understood.
"God moves," he explained.
"And the poppies?" I asked.
"The poppies are for remembering those who were lost," he said. "But they also remind me of these men. In the end, we didn't lose even one that day."