My fall from exclusion and societal privilege was a long and painful journey that happened in a short period of time. The first autumn that we were in this northern city had my father and I getting involved in a community play production of “Babes In Toyland”. We were responsible for the props and stage management during the play. I helped my father build and paint all of the props used in the play with the central point being a birdcage, that at the right moment would create a flash and a puff of smoke, resulting in the bird disappearing. We used gunpowder and spent long hours perfecting it, so there was an incredibly high level of satisfaction when the performance went off without a hiccup, and the audience reacted with awe and wonder.
Out of that community play involvement I was asked to participate in the Remembrance Day services. Specifically I was asked to recite the famous poem, “In Flanders Fields”. This was to be my first public performance and my first real chance at public speaking so I was noticeably nervous and excited. I had been enjoying the spotlight and the privileges that came with being in the spotlight, but with the series of unfortunate events that had been unfolding lately I really needed this performance to boost me back up to the top once again. In preparation for my comeback, I rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed the poem until I could recite it calmly, slowly, and perfectly timed. I stood in front of a mirror, I would recite it at the dinner table, I would recite it on my travels to and from school. Everyone I knew was going to be at this community service and I wanted to shine.
The day of the event I was dressed up. The mood was somber as the community had gathered to remember the fallen and those who fought for our freedom. I was excited, standing off stage waiting my turn, working on trying to match the same emotional level as the audience. I knew the history of this poem and the significance of it. What is a Remembrance Day service without In Flanders Fields being recited? It was akin to singing the national anthem at a sports event. It was critical that I got the flow correct, pronounced each word, provided key eye contact, and brought honor and respect to the many veterans who would be in attendance. And so I stood off stage and waited my turn.
I believe I followed the “Last Post” bugle call after the laying of wreaths and a tribute to the uniformed soldiers that were present at the service. The MC for the day’s events took to the podium to introduce me. My name and age were called out and I rose in expectation to go onto the stage. The MC proceeded with his introduction, informing the hundreds of people in attendance that I was now going to recite an “original poem” specially written for today’s services. Original poem? I stumbled over my feet as I emerged from stage left, now staring dumbfounded at the MC. I felt betrayed and served up maliciously before the expected crowd.
I walked up to the podium and took out my paper with the poem In Flanders Fields written on it for reference. I looked at the paper and then up at the crowd. In the moment I was wondering if I could wing it – making up a profound poem to celebrate this profound day – but I decided against it. I was good but not that good. So, not knowing what to do I began.
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.
I continued until I had recited the entire poem and then quickly gathering up my paper I turned and exited stage left, trying not to notice the quizzical looks on every single face in that room. The MC was noticeably confused when he walked back out to the podium. Then, gathering his composure he straightened his glasses and with a smile on his face he said, “You know, that poem sounds very familiar.” The audience laughed as they were supposed to and the service went on. But I didn’t. I was devastated. It was over. I don’t know what had happened to have this horrible thing occur but it just did and now not only did I make a fool of myself but apparently I just plagiarized probably the most famous poem in the history of poems. Now, even my academic credibility was shot.
Remembrance Day indeed. Tis the day that my 15 minutes ran out and I was reminded once again of the lurking dangers of pride.
It knows it all, it knows it all,
The world of groans and laughter,
It sneers of pride before a fall,
But the bitter pride comes after:
So leave me and I’ll seek you not,
So seek me and you’ll find me—
But till I know your hand-grip’s true
I’ll stand with hands behind me.
It knows it all, it knows it all,
The world of lies and sorrow—
It prates of pride before a fall,
And of the humble morrow;
But shame and blame are but a name,
Oh, heart that’s hurt past curing!
We’ll drink to-night the sinner’s pride,
The pride that’s most enduring.
They know it all, they know it all,
The curs that pass the sentence.
They preach of pride before a fall
And bitter black repentance:
So leave me when my star is set,
I’ll glory that you leave me,
While one has pride to love me yet
There’s nought on earth shall grieve me.
“The Pride That Comes After” Henry Lawson 1867-1922