I am one of those people who loves reading and finding out how other people see life. Sometimes I see things which end up as subjects of my blog post after they have had the "Inkyworld" treatment. Other times I see things which I would love to share with you but I cannot find a suitable way of doing so.
I read the piece of writing I have decided to share with you today in Dutch on www.reflectieinblauw.nl - and I loved it so much that I asked the author - Arthur van der Vlies - if he could translate it into English so I could share it with you.
Today is Herdenkingsdag (or Dutch Remembrance Day). Of course, I could have written something myself but I found this so poignant for being so simple.
4th of May
The other day I was at De Basis for a meeting. I’ve been a regular visitor there for a few years now. Sometimes I’m there for a meeting, other times simply for a cup of coffee. It’s grown into a meeting place for many uniformed professionals.
I was in the recreation room, having a chat with a colleague who was about to be deployed to Afghanistan. Afterwards, I sat down with a cup of coffee and was looking around the room. I spotted a group of elderly men. They were sitting at a table talking, reading the paper, enjoying a coffee.
As I was watching, one of the men stood up. He looked about 80, but I could be out by a year or so. He sat down with me and asked, ‘Why do you want to go to Afghanistan?’ I explained that I wasn’t going to Afghanistan but that I was there to wish my colleague good luck on his mission.
We grabbed another coffee and got to talking. I explained that I no longer work for the police, but that I am still very much involved. The old man was interested and asked if I would mind telling him a bit more about why I’d left the police. I explained that police work and the things I had seen had made me ill. The old man fell silent. After a while he said quietly, ‘Then I understand why you’re not going.’
There was a moment of silence as we looked at each other. He told me he was a war veteran. ‘Sometimes I go sailing with my granddaughter and she’ll ask me questions,’ he said. ‘Questions about the past. Difficult questions. Questions that I can’t always answer. Or don’t want to answer.’
I asked the old man where he had served. (Unfortunately I can’t recall which force.) He mentioned he had been stationed in a number of far flung places and that he had seen things that he would never forget. At one time he and his mate were walking through the jungle. They were chatting but alert. Then he heard a soft hissing noise and couldn’t tell where it was coming from. When he looked besides him he saw his mate lying on the ground; he had been hit and was seriously injured. The veteran’s mate died shortly after. ‘And you know what?’ the veteran said to me. ‘Sometimes I still hear him screaming.’
We looked at each other in silence, tears in our eyes. I felt he veteran touch my arm when he said to me, ‘We don’t need to explain. We understand each other. Me over there and you over here.’ We looked each other in the eye and that was enough.
We sat together a little longer. Then we parted with a handshake. The veteran gave me a firm pat on the back.
Every year on the 4th of May I will remember this veteran. And I will remember with respect his mate and all other Dutch war victims.