Monday, 30 May 2011

civil service or let’s go dancing at the VFW

Memorial Day is a difficult concept to translate to German. There is no precise equivalent but traditions span the divide each with cultural nuances that make the comparison moot, also notwithstanding the existence of Americans’ repackaging of Armistice Day. With reunification, East Germany was bequeathed many West German religious holidays that seem equally inscrutable yet servicable.  It is also approximately my father’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Dad!), who, before the States migrated most holidays to the nearest Monday, grew up with somber birthdays spent at the cemetery.

I can articulate the significance but it is often a challenge to explain the mitigating trappings that most observances have taken on: the beginning, officially, of summer—another day off or the christening of one’s grill and all outdoor equipage. No one remembers it was begun by liberated slaves for openness and reconciliation in the aftermath of the US civil war. Before dismissing us for the long weekend (and early specifically not to interrupt chance for vacation), work hosted a simple yet poignant ceremony, which was not bombasted with the usual patriotism, politics and nationalism. Because the service was attended by the Burgermeister and representatives of the Bundeswehr, the occasion demanded one show not just restraint and respect but also to be simply reverent and circumspect. Instead of being cynical, I thought not only about the people I work with but about both of my grandfathers, who had long, circuitous military careers that brought my family together.  These sorts of realizations and connections make the day off more enjoyed.