Veterans Day 2013
This morning was cool and sunny. It is a Monday holiday and I am home alone enjoying a warm cup of coffee and getting ready to settle into reading a good book by the fire. Filtered sunlight comes through the windows and the view from my front door reveals a scene in which the driveway is once more covered with fallen leaves in spite of my son’s recent valiant effort to rake and gather the piles into a fortress wall covered in blue and green tarps, awaiting the day I will rent a trailer to haul them away.
As Autumn descends into winter the light changes. The sun remains lower in the horizon throughout it’s shortened journey and there is more fog and mist. Soon the fallen wet leaves will harden and their crackling underfoot will pierce the crisp air in the rhythm of my cadence. It is a time when darkness lingers in the morning and casts a black veil over the late afternoon. It is a season in which I find myself spending more time in my kitchen cooking and baking in the early mornings under the intimate illumination of the vent hood light over the stove. To turn on more lights so early would create chaos and conflict with the quietness that blankets the season.
Spring and summer are loud by comparison with all the Robins, finches, and sparrows darting about for worms and bugs. They are mostly gone now and the days begin more slowly and quietly and end quickly with the slumber of nighttime under the thick layers of bedding.
I notice that the kitchen garbage is overflowing as I pour my first cup of coffee. I think for a moment as to whether I want to take the time to pull the plastic bag out and walk it to the garbage bin by the barn or just skip it, knowing that I have the entire day to myself and I could just ignore the mess and go straight to the fire with book in hand. Nobody will be here to see the mess and I can avert my eyes by focusing on the words on the pages of text.
A pizza box is rising out of the top of the can and looks as if it will fall over if I even think about adding one more item. It has convinced me to set my cup down and take action. It is a short and necessary task that I conclude with little annoyance.
As I am just about to re-enter the house I hear the sound of a flock of Geese honking in the distance. I stop and turn around to look for their familiar V formation. I listen intently to their honking, attempting to gage their direction and distance. I feel an extra amount of appreciation for this natural sound because I cannot hear a car or truck on the road. It is a holiday and there is no morning commuter traffic, only the sound of birds and a squirrel rushing across to the next tree on a cool sunny day.
I think about how special it is to be here at this moment and almost abruptly I remember why I have the opportunity to revel in the quiet beauty of this Autumn day. I look about my semi forested rural property with its trees and fallen leaves, and imagine what it might have been like for a soldier walking across no man’s land in places like the Somme or Ardennes during WWI. Would the crackling leaves under their many boots have sounded like a distant gun battle and put their nerves on end just prior to the real terror of the actual attack?
I can’t see them but I hear the Geese flying closer now, their honking louder and seemingly joyful compared to my thoughts of war. The Armistice agreement of WWI was signed in the forest of Compiègne on a very cold and wet morning. I imagine there were leaves covering the tank tracks and trenches that had blotted out the natural game trails through that forest.
After more than a million deaths, I wonder what it must have felt like on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the peace agreement took effect? Would a soldier somewhere in Europe who had spent so much time keeping his head down in fear now uncoil his body and stand erect and look up?
I think about the unnecessary and tragic the deaths that occurred shortly after the Armistice agreement was intended to be in effect because of the difficulty in communication at that time. Who was the last person to die in that war and who was the soldier that pulled the trigger that released the last bullet?
What would it have felt like to no longer hear gunshots and canon fire? At what point would a soldier’s mind be still enough to make note of that very first bird song?
The peace of 1918 didn’t last. Another Armistice agreement was signed in the same Compiègne forest as before. This time it was France’s surrender to Hitler. It would be another 5 years before that war would end.
Peace is always fleeting. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan… It is a never ending cycle of violent war. The “war on terror” is terrifying and ongoing.
The wind is blowing gently this morning, just enough to fill the American flag that I have posted along the front driveway. I am grateful for the service of my friends and family who are veterans and to the soldiers who are now my students. They are always in my thoughts and prayers.
I can see the flock fly over my home now and I feel a deeply spiritual connection to the beauty of nature on this Veteran’s day… and a profound appreciation for this moment of peace.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.