My grandfather, John Bertram Hicks. Looks like a troublemaker, doesn't he? He was.

Today is Veteran’s Day – a day to honor and remember the sacrifices that men and women have made in the name of defending our country. There has always been a part of me that has issues with war and the need for a military at all – the idealistic part of me. I am a pacifist at heart, and the idea of war as a necessity of our current way of life is a complete and total affront to all of my sensibilities.

When it comes right down to it though, sensibilities aside, I am grateful beyond belief that other people have been and are willing to put their lives on the line for an ideal that they wholeheartedly believe in – our freedom to continue our way of life.

And all of those ideals are lovely things, but the reality of war, and what it must be like to know with a visceral and genuine certainty that it is within your job description to kill others when necessary – and if necessary, lay down your life for those ideals – really is beyond the limits of my ability to empathize or imagine. I simply cannot do it – it surpasses the scope of my experience.

We live such sheltered lives here in the United States. They keep blabbling all over the news about how this is the Age of Austerity and the Great Recession, but I think that the magnitude of the attention paid to our economic woes (while woeful) is all out of proportion. Have we really become so soft and coddled in this society that having to go without cable television is now considered a major infringement upon our ability to enjoy and lead full lives? That is sad.

Austerity is having your sugar rationed. Austerity is having to go without tires for cars and for bicycles. Austerity is having ration coupons and victory gardens. Austerity is to truly go without – and not by choice or preference.

Yes, there are those in the country at this moment who are sunk deep in the mire of an austere existence – I read the news, I hear all about the evictions and job losses and foreclosures. I’m aware. They are experiencing deprivation and loss. They are experiencing austere living conditions – presumably.

On the other hand, the great majority of us have gone on with our lives, without the Great Recession causing much more than a blip on our screens. (I’m sure, at this point, many of you are wondering why a post about Veteran’s Day seems to be more about our economy…I’ll get there, just stick with me). We cannot comprehend austerity, because it has not entered our lives in a real way.

On days like Veteran’s Day, I cannot help but pan the camera lens a bit wider, and take in all of the things surrounding the need to even have Veterans in a world-wide way. I think about the people in Darfur today. But for our Veterans (and several other salient factors), we might truly know the kind of horrors and the “austere” living conditions that have been visited upon the people of that region.

Without our Veterans, we might be subject to the kinds of injustices and the restrictions of civil liberties that so many of the Chinese are suffering today. Without our Veterans, each one of us may be far more conversant with the realities of an austere existence.

I may not agree with it when we persist in sticking our militial finger into pies all over the globe (when are we going to ever start asking whether or not we should, rather than if we could???), but I value the sacrifices of those in our armed forces – and the sacrifices of their families. Think, for a moment, about the reality of leaving your family members behind to go off to far-flung places, knowing that you may never meet again in this life…hard to think about, isn’t it? Think about what it’s like to stand there and watch someone you love walk away from you, on their way to stand on the line for an ideal, knowing that this may be the last time you ever see their face. Tough stuff.

Tougher still than this seminal moment, is the everyday – every morning, and every night, spent wondering where and how they are. Wondering if they are okay, if they’ll be okay tomorrow. Those are the kinds of things that I think about on Veterans’ Day.

I think about both of my grandfathers – who, along with my grandmothers, truly survived ages of austerity. One day this past summer, I got together to art journal with Martina and Dani, and Martina had brought along a Life magazine from the early forties. I paged through it with wonder – I love vintage stuff, mostly because it’s like peering through a window to glimpse what life might have been like for those I know and love. This particular war-time issue had an entire three-page section devoted to the different rationing programs in place, and the reasons for them.

The people did this joyfully – they went without to serve the greater good of the country. I simply cannot imagine any of us lining up, smiling, to decrease our own creature comforts in the name of the greater good. But that’s what they did – my grandmothers at home, while my grandfathers fought.

Days like this exist to do more than give us a reason to fly the flag and wax poetic about the ideals of freedom and struggle and sacrifice. I ask you, take out your dictionaries and look up a few terms – struggle, sacrifice, austerity. Sound like what you’re experiencing? Probably not – and that’s okay, as long as you take this as your opportunity to put yourself in the place of those who are on everyday familiarity with those terms.

Don’t just think about the Veterans today. Think about their widows, their orphans. Think about their parents, their siblings. Think about what kind of courage it takes to stand before danger for the sake of so many you will never even meet. Think about what true austerity is. Think about it tomorrow, and the next day. Think about it next week. Don’t just save it for November 11th.

That said, I thank the Veterans for their service to this country – and by extension, their service on my behalf. I thank all who have ever served – including my grandfathers. My father’s father, Michael Joseph Gaar, served in the Army during World War II. He was color blind in such a way that he could pick out the camouflage of the enemy troops, so he did reconnaissance and scouting. Dangerous stuff. All three of his brothers served as well: John Gaar, Jr., Joseph Gaar, and Leo Gaar.

My grandfather, Michael Joseph Gaar (left), with a buddy from the neighborhood. World War II.

My mother’s father, John Bertram Hicks, served in the Navy aboard the USS John Hood. He lied about his age to get into the service a year early – I guess it was a bit easier to do things like that back then. They were both lucky – they served their time and lived long lives and raised families once their service was complete.

My grandfather, John Bertram Hicks (right), standing with a friend in front of the house where he grew up in Phillips, WI. World War II.

My Uncle Ed served during the Korean War. My cousin Tony is in the Marines serving right now and my friend’s husband JT is in the Army Reserves, and they’ve each done a handful of tours over in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thank you, all of you. May you be blessed. As for the rest of us? I pray that we adopt a little bit of empathy, a little humility, and find a way to adjust our skewed perspectives.

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