For those who have served
Warning: I'm sorry to disappoint those who live for the snark, but today's post isn't a snarky one. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming soon.
Most of us know the story: on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, The War To End All Wars was formally brought to a close with the German signing of the Armistice Treaty. That was in 1918, and, of course, what would later be designated as World War I did not mark the end of war at all, but merely the beginning of a whole new era of warfare. Nevertheless, November 11 became a day to honor veterans of that bloody war, and, later on, veterans of all wars. In the United States we know it as Veterans Day, and in other parts of the world it is Remembrance Day.
Veterans Day gives me cause to acknowledge and celebrate the veteran I live with, Ron Kaye. And I'll tell you right off that this post won't even begin to do him justice; these are just a few things off the top of my head.
The first thing that comes to my mind about Ron is that he is always doing what he can to help make things better for others – people and animals alike. Whether it's taking a day to go into Houston to tend to his aging "second parents," or spending hours helping our friends at a local goat dairy dig a trench to help fix a broken well pump, or helping the ranch hands save the life of a colicky horse, he's there. He has helped his children through some very rough spots over the years. He has always been there for them, and for me too, even when we didn't make it easy for him.
He's there for strangers too. A few months ago there was a grisly car crash on the relatively quiet country road that runs by our home. Some local teenagers had apparently had way too much to drink, and their car veered off the road, plunged through a fence and plowed into a tree. Since the road is about a half mile from our home – we have a long driveway – we weren't aware that anything was going on till the local law enforcement got to the scene and we saw the flashing lights. Without even hesitating, Ron ran up to the road, found out what was going on and asked what he could do to help, explaining that he had been a field medic in the military. Immediately he was handed a pair of disposable gloves and told, "There's one over there in the trees." Not knowing what he'd find, Ron raced over to where a young man who had been thrown from the car was lying bleeding. It was impossible for Ron to discern the extent of his injuries, but they were obviously pretty bad. All he could do was keep the young man immobilized and give what comfort he could till the EMTs got there. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say he helped save his life. I think what he did was heroic. Yet he shrugs it off, saying, "I just did what anyone would do."
Ron is the most kindhearted, loving, and even sentimental person I know, but he isn't afraid to go "toe-to-toe" with anyone, whether he's sticking up for someone he loves, advocating on behalf of a client, or calling someone out for their b.s. (I firmly believe it was his willingness to call things as he saw them that was instrumental in the breakdown of our "friendship" with a person who later became a well-known hustledork.)
He has also gotten into his fair share of conflicts while arguing his point of view about various matters such as spirituality, social issues, or, especially, politics. Although he is always respectful and never abusive, he is sometimes...well...adamant. Some people have trouble with that, if they happen to hold an opposing view. Some have hurled abuse at him for his so-called "liberal" views. Some, not knowing his background but basing their judgment solely on, say, the fact that he was opposed to the U.S.'s 2003 invasion of Iraq, have accused him of being a contemptible '60s-era hippie who sat in a custom-painted van, smoking dope and listening to Grateful Dead tapes, while laughingly avoiding the draft. Little do they know... Some folks simply cannot understand how a person can be both a "liberal" (or a holder of anti-war views) and a veteran who actually volunteered for a cause beyond himself.
In the years since he served, I think Ron has managed to make a good life. He has two fine kids (I can't take any credit for that, but I adore them). He does work he loves. And he has made me happy for sixteen years and counting. Most important of all, he has an uncanny ability to see into people's hearts. I sometimes wish more people could see into his.
So anyway. Here we are, on the 90th anniversary of the first official "Armistice Day" (it was first observed on November 11, 1919), which eventually morphed into Veterans Day. If I were you, I'd celebrate it by saying a big "Thank you" to the veteran(s) in your life. A big hug probably wouldn't hurt either. And if you're a veteran yourself, or currently serving, you have my thanks, and a big virtual hug as well.
I've always liked this poem by the late French poet Louis Aragon, who was a part of the French Resistance during World War II. This translation is from the (out-of-print) 1976 book, Literature and Liberalism: An Anthology of Sixty Years of The New Republic, edited by Edward Zwick.
The Waltz of the Twenty-Year-Olds
Good for the wind, good for the night, good for the cold
Good for the march and the bullets and the mud
Good for legends, good for the stations of the cross
Good for absence and long evenings. Funny ball
At which I danced and, children, you will dance
To the same dehumanized orchestral score
Good for fear, good for machine guns, good for rats
Good as good bread and good as simple salad
But here is the rising of the conscript sun
The waltz of the twenty-year-olds sweeps over Paris
Good for a shot of brandy at dawn and the anguish before the attack
Good for the waiting, the storm and the patrols
Good for night silence under rocket flares
Good for youth passing and the rusting heart
Good for love and death, good to be forgotten
In the rain and shadow cloaking the battlefields
Child soldiers trundled in no other bed
But the ditch already tailored to their measure
The twenty-year-old waltz sweeps through the bistros
And breaks like a laugh at the entrance to the Métro
Army classes of yesterday, vanished dreams
Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen: listen. They hum
Like us the trite refrain, like us believe it
And like us in those days, may God forgive them
Value more than their lives at a single moment
Of drunkenness or folly or delight
What do they know of the world? Does living mean
Quite simply, Mother, to die very young?
* * * * *
OMT: Today is as good a day as any to mention the ongoing problem of U.S. veterans – of all wars – getting the short end of the stick when it comes to health care. Here's a story about it.
Here's a link to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs web site.
Labels: Ron Kaye