It's back! I've been focusing heavily on World War I, but I've set my WWI thoughts away for the moment and I'm ready to go back to writing about one of my other loves, words.
We are currently in a season where words of gratitude get thrown around frequently. On Monday I asked a group of students what it means to be thankful. My favorite answer came from a second-grader who said, "Being thankful means that if someone gives you gross carrots on your plate, you don't say, 'Ewwww. This is gross.' You just eat them." While perhaps she was describing good manners and she certainly described the behavior of a thankful spirit, I wouldn't necessarily define this as thankfulness. So often when talking about being thankful, we list the big things in our life like our family, friends, pets, house, and so on.
This November I've been thinking a great deal about being thankful for more than just the big things. More times than I can count I have talked to young people who wonder what they have to be thankful for. They see that they have the same things as their friends and they've never had to do without so they take the things in their life for granted. It is easy to condemn this attitude, but I find myself forgetting how amazing my life is sometimes too.
As I've read and listened to my widely varied books, I've noticed that there is so much more to the world than I ever realized. Wicked Plants, The End of Night, and my most recent read Consider the Fork have really shaken up my view of thankfulness.
Today's Word: Commonplace
Three syllables. Pronounced [kom-uhn-pleys] Adjective. Defined by dictionary.com as ordinary; undistinguished or uninteresting; without individuality. Look around you. How many things do you see that stand out as unusual? If you are living a typical day more than likely you are surrounded by things that are commonplace. Phones, bags, electric lights, toilets, and concrete. They are so commonplace that we forget just how remarkable they are. With the average smartphone, you can access a wealth of knowledge never collected at any other time in human history. The materials that make up all types of bags allow us to look stylish (or not) and carry what we need. We can carry stuff in cross-body bags, backpacks, shoulder bags, briefcases, the list is never-ending. Our bags can be insulated to keep food fresh. Our pizza delivery people put our pizza in a special bag to keep it warm. 100 years ago less than 35% of the US population had electricity. They cooked on wood-burning stoves and used oil lamps to light their homes. 1/3 of the earth's population still don't have access to proper toilets. The concrete that paves our roads and allows for our buildings to be large and strong has only been around for less than 200 years.
We see these things so often they become commonplace and we forget to be thankful for them. Consider the Fork was about the history of cooking utensils and implements. There was some minutia, but overall I was impressed with how much we have and how much effort and time has gone into creating the kitchens we know today. Many years ago when I was teaching preschool I brought some books about the pilgrims and how they lived. When we sat down to list things they were thankful for the kids listed things like mommy, daddy, grandparents, toys, house, etc. One kid looked very serious and said, "Toilets." Clearly, he had noticed that was missing from Plymouth and he was thankful he could enjoy the benefits of modern plumbing. But really, when's the last time you were thankful for a toilet. We complain about cleaning them and we chastise our family members who leave the seat up, but have any of you caught dysentery lately? No? Spend much time cleaning out your chamber pot? No? Well, then be thankful you have a toilet and a sewage system.
As we rest in this season of gratitude, don't forget to take time to be thankful for all the little things. The simple things. The commonplace.
This post was published at exactly 11:00 Paris time which is 5:00 am here in Michigan. That is the exact time 100 years ago when men lay down their arms and the world celebrated the end of the War to End All Wars. The celebrations were massive as people felt hope and peace that had been missing for the previous four years. They longed for a period of peace and rest after years of anxiety and doubt.
100 ago less than 35% of the American population had electric lighting. Radio was not yet a mode of communication and people were wondering if cars could ever replace horses. Their lives seem so foreign to us, but in truth we have so much in common. We hate to see the hatred that tears our country apart. We fret and pray while watching fire destroy homes and land. We fear terror and violence. So much has changed and yet, so much hasn't.
Before the war, people had faith in humanity and the hope that through science and technology the world could see perfection. The war shattered that illusion. Men shot and killed each other over yards of land. They launched gas attacks and watched as men gagged and suffocated to death. After the war, many suffered from Shell Shock, or what we would call PTSD, but never received any kind of care or treatment. The world embraced the "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!" because there was no point to life. They lost hope. They lost faith.
With all the reading I have been doing about World War I, it has been really difficult not to get depressed after reading about the atrocities and tragedies. For example - Look at the photo above. Look at those happy joyful people. In 1919, a pandemic flu will come through and 1/3 of the world's population becomes infected and another 50 million people will die. 50 million. What happened to all that hope? How can you find hope in the midst of that?
But then a verse that we usually associate with Christmas came to mind and I have been meditating on it ever since. Isaiah 9:6, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." If that doesn't fill you with hope than truly nothing will. People do nice things sometimes and I love that, but I don't place my hope in people. They will always fail you, but rather my hope is in Christ.
The future is coming when War will cease and we will finally know peace. The Prince of Peace will reign and death will be no more. Isn't that something worth celebrating?
The poppy is the flower of remembrance. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the many men and women who have served and who are still serving in the military. Thank you for your service and the sacrifice. You sacrifice your comfort, your time, your family, and your lives to see that our nation is protected. Thank you. You are remembered and loved.
A young Jessie is at the top of this photo. They may have to sit still and not smile for the photos, but these were some wild and fun women, I'm sure! Jessie would have been about 20 years older by the time she wrote these letters. The solider is not Walter Hill, but Walter would have been outfitted like this and been similar in appearance.
Tonight I'm finishing up transposing another letter. I just LOVE this eyewitness account of the war! I imagine Walter getting the letter and wondering, "Hmm, who could this be from?" then laughing with pleasure when he realizes that his old teacher took the time to write him. It seems as though they are completely out of touch, but she must have found him through a local organization. Teachers use the phrase "my kids" to refer to their students in the same way that parents do because they share a very special bond with their students. Clearly, Walter Hill was one of Jessie's kids.
I've printed his words in gray and added some of my own thoughts in italicized blue. The wording is mostly his and some words were very difficult to decipher.
I received your letter and was very glad and also surprised to hear from you. You laughed at me about 2+2=3. Well, you want to do a little trading over here and you will find out that two + two equals as much as they can fool you into believing it is. I was awful glad to hear from you. I have to write to my friend nearly every day. She worries awful about us . . . and it is no use to worry as things will happen just the same no matter how much you worry.
Things happening just the same is all well and good to say when you are living a comfortable suburban lifestyle, but this is quite the statement to read from someone who is writing from the trenches.
This paragraph give you some insight into just what kind of teacher Jessie was. She took quite the forceful approach to classroom management. Tying kids up for whispering? She must have had a rough group!
I guessed who wrote that letter just as soon as I got down to that 2+2. Do you remember the time you tied me all up in strips of cloths for whispering? Do you remember the time that man fell down stairs over across from the school and came down and smashed in the brook? I sure remember that Mrs. Harringan. We used to have some good times at that school. If my memory does not fail me I think I remember some thing you forgot to mention. Aren't you the teacher that laid me across a double desk and gave me "What Paddy gave the Drum"? SHE SPANKED HIM! Those were the happiest days. I must have shame a speaker man at that Peace Conference with the enemy of the cabbage patch. No idea what he's talking about here. Remember the time I put Burdocks in the girls hair and got a chance to do the toe dance all around the room with the aid of the teacher holding on to my ear?
You are right on Uncle Sam would be proud of the boys that he has behind him. Of course I think more of the boys who volunteered but the other boys are a credit to their country. Some men were drafted while others signed up to serve. The best part of it all is the way the boys acted when they got orders to leave for France. We did not have the least idea where we were going. It would have done you good to see how willing and anxious they were to get started. You would think that they would worry about the submarines on the way over but it was just the opposite. Most of them were anxious to sight a sub so we could get a shot at it. The officers had a lot of trouble keeping them down and not to sing their heads off. We had setting up exercises every day and games, looking and a lot of singing. Picture this in your head. Isn't this fantastic? Soldiers, who are really just boys, singing and hoping to get a shot off at the enemy. They sound so young and optimistic. I imagine their harried, serious officers saying stuff like, "You there! Get off that railing! You there! Stop that racket!" It sure what a great sight. If you never have been across it would do you good to take the trip if you were not sea sick. I was sick and did not care for awhile if all the subs the Germans had got after us at once. Poor Walter, I can totally sympathize with him on this!
It was a fair sight along the western shore in the harbor. We left to see the longer ships and at night to see the lights on the buildings. It has been worth a lot to me. I have not suffered as yet. Of course, there have been things I would not have refused like a nice big piece of pie and a glass of good milk. But war is what Sherman said it was and then some. William Tecumseh Sherman, a Union general in the Civil War, said, "War is hell." I can't tell if he's being modest and kindly keeping the gruesome details away from his teacher or if he truly hasn't see battle yet. He sounds optimistic, but to say that war is hell and then some is quite strong. I also love that he worded this so as to refrain from using the word hell.
I remember the last time I saw you. If I am not mistaken I was with my friend. I would not be guilty of not speaking to my old school teacher. I may have changed in looks, but I guess there is just as much deviltry in me as ever. Oh Walter, you sound so much like someone I want to know! I bet there are a lot of my old classmates in service over here. You perhaps read in the papers about the way the Bosch have destroyed the forest trees in the land they have been forced to leave. They sure are a bum lot of soldiers to fight the way they do. Bosch, a slang term for rascal, is what the French called the Germans.
While I am writing this there's a lice little Bosch Machine right over our little shanty. We have a visit every night from the Bosch. They have a habit of coming over about 7:30 to 8:30 and in the morning just before daylight. They dropped a couple bombs over in the field not far away the other night. Boys in our company have done their turn in the trenches and are in for a pass for a few days. We expect to be sent down South near to a Watering Place. I'm not sure why the W and P are capitalized here. He could be referencing a Dickensian term for a bar. I will be glad when we go.
I will have to tell you of a sight that I saw in another town. There as a Bosch up in the air so high he looked like a little toy. One of the French machiners got after him and down he came head first. It was some sight. We went over and saw him after he landed. The machine was like kindling. I won't tell you about the fellows. If you know any fellows that are in the Aviation Service you can give them a lot of credit as they will use a lot of nerve in that job. There are so many things going through my mind after reading this. The naive curiosity. The interest in the crashed plane. The horror at the condition of the pilot's body. Below, I've included a recruitment poster for the Aviation Services. I am impressed by all those serving in the Air Force, but these brave men do deserve a lot of credit for their courage and bravery.
Be sure to write,
Mech. Walter Hill
I'm currently in sunny California. Tonight we are staying in Pasadena and our room has a marvelous view of the surrounding mountains. I've been traveling with Jason this past week so I've had time to unwind and relax. I am working on posting another letter from the War, but the elections are in the forefront of my mind. Everywhere I look I see signage for voting and elections. The sheer mass of signage is astounding not to mention the ubiquitous reminders on social media and television. Today the news will be closely tracking the results and people will celebrate and mourn. Here are a few thoughts on the election.
1. It is important to keep in mind that most people want what is best for the United States, but many of us disagree on what is best. I have strong beliefs, based on the Bible, and so I vote based on my convictions. Sometimes, we can assume that those who believe differently want to see the destruction of the country when this just isn't the case. Know what you believe and why and vote based on your convictions. Don't villainize people who are acting on their convictions. We are all very different, but we also share a lot in common. Listen to people before condemning their beliefs. You may not change your mind, but you will be better able to understand the opposite viewpoint.
2. Be very intentional about your social media posts. Make sure what you are posting is accurate and true. Also consider the ramifications of taking a stand. Standing strong for the conviction that abortion is wrong is worth the risk of alienating others because it is a matter of life and death. The consequences are grave. Getting belligerent about blocking a new development in your town can be damaging to your representation of the gospel. (I'm just trying to use a non-moral example.) If you are opposed to the new development then say so and work to get your point across, but keep in mind that others may have equally good reasons to vote for the new development. Attacking others and being critical regarding something like that isn't worth the stand.
3. Another thought about social media. We can get really preachy about our beliefs online, because it is so easy to fight through a screen. When people, especially someone I don't really know, comment I can go at them with ease. I don't have to look them in they eye. I can assume they are a terrible person because we disagree and I can look things up before commenting. I had to delete Facebook from my phone and life for a few weeks after the 2016 election because I found myself getting into intense debates with strangers and acquaintances. Neither of us were going to change our minds and the only thing we were doing was wasting time and making each other upset. Stay off social media and if your friends are celebrating election results you disagree with than leave it be. Refrain from commenting with your predictions for what is to come.
4. Keep in mind that voting is the least you can do. As in, you should do more than voting in each election and then staying absent minded the rest of the time. Our founders wanted to make voting something special and somewhat inconvenient. I don't think voting should be as easy as having an app and then flipping back to keeping up with the Kardashians. If you really want to change the political scene get involved and show up and city council meetings, school board meetings, and so on. I don't currently do those, but I do read my local paper and I work to educate others in the history and principles of our country. I am not comfortable with harassing people into the voting booth then watching the outcome of a completely uninformed election. Study, read, participate. All of us will be involved a bit differently, but be involved.
I will be keeping an eye on the outcome of the election from across the country. It feels weird not planning to vote tomorrow having already voted via absentee ballot. Whatever happens, keep in mind that our comfort and strength are found in God, not in the government. "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." (Psalm 46:1-3) This passage ends with "be still and know that I am God." We are not to "be still" in a blooming garden or on a calm sea, but rather we are told to be still when the mountains are falling into the sea. No matter what the outcome I can know that God is faithful. I pray that you find peace in that as well.
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."