Thursday, November 12, 2015

The day after Veterans Day

Hello dear readers,
I'm back, from a rather lengthy hiatus here at Ghosts of 1914.

At 11:00 a.m. today, the 11th of November, I sat at my kitchen table, taking a break from my work. I closed my eyes and tried to reach back through time and place myself in the crowd who stood in Whitehall at the Cenotaph dedication, on 11 November 1920. I tried to hear bells tolling the hour and to feel the quietly shifting presence of the massive crowd that gathered to honor the war dead.

That particular Veterans, or Armistice, Day is one to which I have no particular family or other personal connection, at least of which I'm aware. But my work on the history and literature of the Great War has long made it a compelling moment for me. When the 11th of November comes around every year, its predecessors, especially those of the post-Great War era, echo loudly for me and, though I was not there to witness them, sometimes seem to overlay the present.

I aim to write something for Veterans Day each year here on Ghosts of 1914. One of my traditional Veterans Day messages is to urge you to give thanks and some measure of care, be it volunteered time or a charitable donation, to service people and/or veterans of today.

I almost didn't manage to write something in time for this year's occasion. I've been busy and somewhat burned out, what with a recent house move, a summer full of renovations, and a full time job. I didn't know if I had time or the energy to put something together for the 11th of November. But then, something about that brief moment of reaching back towards that Armistice Day in the ever-more-distant past, however indulgently fanciful it was, made me realize something. Perhaps it was the brief confluence of past and present that turned my mind towards the future. Veterans Day is important, but what about the day after Veterans Day? It is right to commemorate and show our gratitude on the 11th of November each year, to mark the day with solemnity, respect, and perhaps a wish for peace. But when the crowds disperse, when the flowers in wreaths are tattered, the flags put away, and the fanfares subside, it is also right to continue these efforts. When it is not Veterans Day, perhaps as much as or more than on the holiday itself, we must still find ways to recognize, to listen and learn, and to show compassion.

So I urge you, on what is now (nearly) the 12th of November, to consider the day after Veterans Day as another opportunity to participate in some work of remembrance, learning, compassion, and/or service for veterans of current, recent, and/or long-ago combat.

I am glad to pick up my pen here at Ghosts of 1914 once again, and, more importantly, to say "thank you" to service people past and present on the day after Veterans Day.