I awaken this morning and pass the WWI medals hanging in my hallway, remembering it is Veteran’s Day, commemorating the morning of November 11th, 1918, “Armistice Day”. That was the morning when the church bells tolled across Europe and America for the ending of the “Great War”. On that morning, my grandmother’s bloodied, muddied boots still crossed between the tents that housed the wounded soldiers, who still died, long after the treaty was signed to mark the end of the fighting. My grandfather didn’t die in the trenches of France, but his lungs bore the damage from mustard gas for the rest of his life.
Though everyone thought the last of the wars had been fought, less than thirty years later there were men and women dying by the tens of thousands yet again in another World War. My father served as a radio operator over countless bombing missions while stationed in England during WWII. He survived but had the guilt that many soldiers do, after living when so many of their fellow countrymen died on either side of them, and I think that contributed to some of the recklessness in his life.
My stepson carries a very large caliber bullet on his key chain, the one that missed his vital organs by only millimeters as he flew a helicopter over Afghanistan during his third tour of duty overseas. He lives his life differently, recognizing the gift he has been given by surviving, to see his children grow up. He now works tirelessly as a researcher in making sure that the body armor is tested and accurate and protects his fellow soldiers.
Nurses and soldiers survive the battles, but are scarred for the remainder of their lives by the experience of war. Trauma marks a person, often defining them in ways that the mundane can’t. I hear countless stories from my dying patients, how they learned to live their life in a meaningful way after surviving catastrophic events in their life. These are the experiences that mold us, change us, temper us, and teach us wisdom.
I remember today, and am very thankful for all the heroes; the countless men and women who died serving their country, and also those who have lived to be the survivors and teach us to live each day as though it was our last, recognizing the precious gift of life.