Saturday, November 10, 2018

Armistice in '18

Hello, dear readers,
The 1918 Armistice centenary is at hand, and commemorations are ongoing around the world.

I attended my local Veterans' Day parade last weekend, and there was a special Armistice ceremony afterwards. We sat in a 1930s Spanish Revival veterans' hall, folding chairs creaking as attendees filtered in and sat. Ornate chandeliers hung from the dark wood ceiling. The bright blue sky was visible through the high windows. The space had (what I consider) the pleasant, faint scent that only decades-old gathering spaces have--a sort of hushed mingling of dusty curtains, scrubbed metal counters in the adjoining kitchen, whispers of perfume and aftershave, leather shoes, coffee, cleaning fluids and wood polish that builds up subtly over the years. Generations gather and disperse here, for events momentous and mundane.

A band played patriotic songs as attendees took their seats, and soon it was time for the national anthem. All stood as the flag was walked in by an honor guard and all eyes were fixed on the flag, with hands and hats on hearts, as the anthem played.

The flag before us was a familiar symbol, a sign of what we had come to honor and what those we honored had gazed upon and been inspired by. But, to me, it was also something that seemed unsettled, charged with a certain restlessness that I had not seen in it before.

We live in uncertain times. I'm often reminded these days that, though history might once have seemed or been taught to us as a reliable foundation for the present, a space cordoned off in memory, deep below, in which tragic or painful truths played out and were reckoned with so as to support our progress and betterment, it is, in fact, not elsewhere. History is here, history is now. The past and present are bound together, evolving continuously, reliant on our memory and understanding, our willingness to engage with their truths and the responsibility we have as their stewards. Signs and symbols, ideals, on which we rely to define who we are, what we believe, what we defend, what we offer to our fellow humans, are not such comfortably fixed marks as we might like to think. They require our persistent commemoration and engagement.

Our dear ghosts of 1914 deserve our commemoration and engagement, not so much because they are denizens of a past long gone, now at a distance of a hundred years or more, but as fellow navigators of a world fraught with recurrent conflict, where lofty ideals and human truths intersect, sometimes redefining one another.

On this Armistice anniversary and Veterans' Day, I encourage you to honor and thank veterans past and present. Let the Ghosts of 1914 inspire you to give your time, resources, and/or attention to military service members or veterans in your family or community.

May our commemoration of the first day of peace in 1918 be a reminder to love and seek peace in our time as well.

Thank you for reading,