Friday, November 11, 2011

Ce n'est pas la guerre

Gamblers the world over are placing their bets today, 11/11/11. Here in the Philippines there are low-odds lotto games of only two and three digits. The bet is ten pesos and can win you up to 4,500 pesos ($100). By yesterday, all bets for 11-11 and 1-1-1 were sold out. They're sold out to make sure that if too many people bet on the same number and it wins, the national lotto doesn't go broke.

If you were a soldier in the British, American, French or German armies on this day in 1918 - and you were alive - you would have considered yourself extremely lucky, since an estimated ten million soldiers died in the First World War. This day used to be known as Armistice Day in the States, but they changed it to Veterans Day in 1954.

On this Veterans Day, I want to simply say hello to all my former buddies, shipmates, and comrades-in-arms with whom I served from 1988 to 2000. And to all those with whom, mysteriously, I continue to serve nightly in my dreams. In a very real and very satisfying sense, I never really left the service. But I'm too old and out of shape to keep up with the men who haven't aged a day since I last saw them. The ones who are dead are ageless.

And the dreams are progressive, adding one onto the other. So instead of enlisting again with twelve years under my belt, as the years have passed it's fifteen years and seventeen years, until I'm just one more enlistment away from my twenty year retirement. Perhaps when I'm on my deathbed I can be honorably discharged, the way they let my father go at the age of fifty-five. They told him he'd had a heart attack, and showed him the scar tissue on his x-ray. But he was unaware of any heart attack, and after thirty-one years in the army, was totally unfit for civilian life.

He lived another twenty years not knowing what to do with himself. I wonder if his dreams were like mine, still in the service to his last gasp. (Or was it a yawn?)


When I was young my heart and head were light,
And I was gay and feckless as a colt
Out in the fields, with morning in the may,
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom.
O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free
And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time
Across the carolling meadows into June.

But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit
Burning my dreams away beside the fire:
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost.
O starshine on the fields of long-ago,
Bring me the darkness and the nightingale;
Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home,
and silence; and the faces of my friends.

Siegfried Sassoon, Limerick, 1 February 1918

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