By Barry Klassel
Of the two federal holidays that honor those who have served in our nation’s military, Veterans Day, dating back to the end of World War I and celebrated on November 11 each year, seems like the quiet, younger sibling. Memorial Day, on the other hand, which originated during the Civil War, has turned more into a celebration of the beginning of summer and an invitation to the mega-sale at the local mall.
But being in the military is a serious matter. Regardless of our individual opinions about the wars our country has fought or the appropriateness of war in general, those who serve should not be forgotten. For each man or woman, especially for those who see combat and for the families who love them, armed service is an intense, life-changing experience. On this Veterans Day, we encourage you to contact your local Veterans Administration to learn how to best help those currently in service and those who served in the past.
The military itself knows the importance of using ceremony and ritual in supporting and honoring those who serve. My father, a sergeant in World War II, had many stories he loved to tell and needed to tell about his days in uniform, both in training camp and in Europe, starting on D-Day plus one. For his funeral just this past June, because I knew he would have appreciated it, I asked that the local army base perform its graveside rite. The beautiful playing of taps, the folding of the flag from the draped casket and its presentation to me, done with absolute respect, were surprisingly moving.
Rituals of Peace
Veterans Day was first called Armistice Day to commemorate the moment combatants agreed to lay down their arms and negotiate the end of “The Great War,” at 11:11 a.m. on November 11, 1918. So many of us have battles we have been fighting for years with those around us, and within ourselves, at great cost. Are we ready to lay aside our pride, anger, and resentment, and change our behavior patterns for the sake of peace?
Think of someone with whom your “battles” would best be over. Invite that person away from the environment where the conflict takes place — to a park or a coffee shop, for example, some place you can relax and talk. Be ready to express what you admire about that person, ways you have gotten along, and areas of compatibility, as you share a biscotti or take a walk. Then talk about the future, how things can change for the benefit of the family or the workplace, etc. Don’t pressure yourself that everything must be resolved right then, but agree to meet another time to follow up and just enjoy each others’ company in a pleasant space.
If you are experiencing an internal conflict, think of writing yourself a commendation letter for what’s going well. What duties do you have and which are you are performing admirably? Design a medal or a trophy for yourself to go along with the letter. Then go on to describe your next mission and list what you have to do to accomplish it. Emphasize the positive. Wish yourself well.
It’s not easy, but it’s a good start.
About the author: Barry Klassel is the Humanist Chaplain at Rutgers University. He serves the population of atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc. in the university community and advocates for the acceptance of secular individuals in all aspects of society. He is a certified celebrant, performing life-cycle ceremonies for people of all backgrounds; he also volunteers for a crisis/suicide hotline. He lives in central New Jersey with his wife of 43 years (and once high school sweetheart), Dara. He has two daughters and two young granddaughters. He can be reached at [email protected]