It is a quarter after 6 on Monday, November 11th here in Munich. It is already quite dark, for Munich is roughly at the same longitude as the US-Canadian border.
Last night I was up late virtually attending the memorial service for a friend of mine in California. Another friend brought his computer and I came in just as the choir was singing. Nina was an amazing woman and her loss is significant to many. I was thrilled to get to be a part of remembering and thanksgiving.
Beloved is off for a three day business tour of London and Dublin. So, its me home for dinner tonight. Me, and you, the reader of this blog at some point in the future. I imagine you sitting at your desk in your living room maybe. Or the pad propped up in your lap. I have no idea. This is such a strange medium held together by electricity.
I’m watching my friends changing their status and portraits to their loved ones who have served in a war. For my age group, that means a lot of WWII fathers and grandfathers. In France and England and Italy, this is Armistice day. The 11th hour of the 11th month of the 11th day that ended – or at least put a decade long pause – World War I. For the US, its Veterans day – all wars.
Walking home from the store tonight I went out of my way to pass a local pre-school.
For Germany, who has many war dead, it is St. Martin’s day. St. Martin is a Roman soldier who was riding his horse one night and saw a beggar freezing by the side of the road. Martin, an early Christian convert, took his sword and tore his cloak in half. When he offered the cloak to the begger, St. Martin discovered it was Jesus. So the tradition is for very young children to make St. Martin lanterns and go walking around singing songs and looking for poor people to give food and clothing to. If its really a big thing, then there’s someone playing the soldier on a horse at the front of the line.
I think its incredibly charming. The kids are hyper excited (candy is involved) and the parents stand and talk to each other in the universal community of young families. Plus – for a country that has such a deeply painful history of war, why not teach children to follow a soldier who shares his cloak rather than a soldier who… well… you know. I was listening to a story on NPR (I love the internets) this afternoon about veterans. One, a Vietnam Era Vet said, “Society teaches us to behave well and be nice to others. And then we’re thrown into war and into doing everything we were taught not to do.” (quote is not exact). This is what many are calling the Moral Wound. This is what many had a hard time bringing back from the war, any war.
Every so often, we stumble over a memorial to the German fallen of World War I. You can see the deep grief of their families in the stone. Its almost whispered though, its like its not okay to grieve since it all began and ended so tragically for everyone involved.
So, instead of poppies pins or old war photos, this is a night for young children and their parents to make paper lanterns, to sing an old song, to walk down the block searching for someone to help.
November is an odd month for an American Ex-pat. Its the month of family holidays that do not match up. Nov 1st is All Saints day and everyone here gets a day off work to go and tend their people’s graves. We wait for the end of May and, our people aren’t buried here. Or if they are, its so many generations back that we’d have no idea where to find them now. Meanwhile, Americans swap tips on where to find a turkey and canned pumpkin pie filling. Also, how to fit that turkey into the smaller German oven once you’ve found one. We look for the tables of orphans, most run by one ex-pat society or another. There’s something kind of thrilling about a chance to re-invent a holiday but also to remember just how far away we have come from our loved ones.
The Christmas decorations are already in place in the stores, there’s no Thanksgiving to get all proper-deliniation-of-the-seasons-hypered-over. Instead, the skeletons an the zombies get shoved into the aisles and are forced to watch their more cheerful holiday replacement being installed. I think perhaps that is the fate of all zombies perhaps, forced to watch their replacements take over.
Winter is coming. You can hear the big cold stamping its way closer and closer with each darkening night. Meanwhile, the children walk with their lanterns and sing their song. The world keeps turning. Sometimes we’re not as far away as we think we are