My wife and I have those fun conversations that couples engage in from time to time. Funny, irreverent conversations with silly or absurd set inductions. “If you had to eat the same meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?” “Is your left foot or right foot more important?”, “Would you prefer the North Pole when it’s light for two months in a row or when it’s dark two months in a row?”. You get the idea. Such conversations are a way to explore what matters in a light-hearted way.
I was reflecting on 2 of those questions for today’s Before Shabbat, two questions I don’t think about quite so lightheartedly anymore. 1) “If you could be born in any historical period, when would you choose?” And 2) “If you could be borne anywhere in the world, where would it be?”
My criteria for answering those two puzzlers are less bold than they may have been 35 years ago when adventure and expansiveness filled my soul. My considerations focus on safety and peace, and access to good healthcare. Boring? Maybe. Trivial? I don’t think so.
On this Veteran’s Day, I think about the time and place I grew up in, and my good fortune not to be pressed into fighting a war. I’ve known many veterans, men and women who served in the military, some willingly, others drafted. Some of them saw combat; others served stateside. For all of them, military service was intense and life-altering.
In 1863, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote to Confederate commander General John Bell Hood, saying, “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.”
The sheer magnitude of pain and suffering of innocents and combatants alike cannot be measured. I am blessed to have been born in a safe country where I did not have to make the difficult decision about serving in a war. I am lucky to have been born in a country where men and women volunteer to defend my country. My home has never been under attack. I don’t know what it’s like to hear incoming mortar fire.
Some veterans know the sounds of war: stark, terrifying, random. And those noises never quite dissipate entirely. And it may be that humans are meant to remember, that something in our DNA forces the imprint of war and strife into every cell. For some veterans, the sounds of struggle are daily memories.
I was born after the Holocaust, after Korea. I am so lucky. I was born in the 50s. I was born in America. I may be alive at a sweet spot of history, in a sweet spot of geography. And for those who served, for all the veterans who carry the weight of service and the pride of service, I salute you. In your honor, I will not take my liberty for granted.