The great Miss Karen Akers takes a staple of M. Brel and, simply by the way she sings "In Flanders field the poppies die" turns a bittersweet love song into a sweetly bitter song that seems wholly appropriate for this eleventh day of the eleventh month.
I've never quite forgiven the turning of Armistice Day into the more generic Veterans Day. In its initial incarnation, the day honored not only those who serve, but the larger idea that they serve for a reason: that war should end. Too often today it's only an occasion for lip service and recrimination; as is so often the case, I can't help feeling it's done rather better across the pond, with solemn remembrance, poppies on every shirtfront, and august assemblages of the extended Royal Family on the Sunday preceding.
But I use the day to listen to Karen Akers and think about peace, so I won't complain. In 2009, I wrote about this day as the last of the annual trilogy of cemetery pilgrimages, a final chance before winter to make sure that everything was suitably respectable with our own extended family. We'd have visited on Decoration Day, of course, to put out the geraniums and tidy up, and then again on Labor Day, to retrieve the geraniums (now blowsy and gone to seed). On Veterans Day we did a final check before leaving the Dear Departed on their own up on the hill for the winter.
I still think of them, on November 11, and more generally of the daring of a generation of people who on some level believed they were stamping out war for all time. How bitter - how infuriating, even - it must have been to realize in just 20 years how wrong they'd been. Now, all these years later, when conflict is big business and we have always been at war with Eastasia, we take it all far too much granted, just as we do the young people whose lives we upend and the broken people we'd rather not think about at all. We shouldn't. The stars look down, and so soon - so soon - the day is done.