It’s Veteran’s Day again.
The one person who comes to mind out of the millions is Mr. Neil Carey, a charming regular guest at the hotel where I worked for a year and a half in Anacortes, Washington. He was in the Navy during World War II, attached to the only battleship (as I understand it) that was not at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. I never met his wife Betty, but I understand from Neil that she was quite the catch. When the news came about Pearl Harbor, Neil was allowed one day of leave before they shipped out. Betty came down to Seattle for the day and they were married, then he left for war and she took the bus to Mount Vernon and then hitch hiked to Anacortes. Neil told me he knew he had to snatch her up before someone else got to her!
Over the many interactions that we had, he would ask me how my husband was doing in the Navy and reminisce about how things had changed. He told me about how quickly he was promoted in wartime, described the different odd jobs he did along the way, like running the ship store for a while. He glossed over what it was like to see a lot of friends die, but you could still catch a glimpse sometimes that that experience also made him who he was. (Both Neil and Betty Carey wrote books about their life experiences, which you can find online).
The title of this post comes from the inscription on a headstone in a World War II era North African graveyard: “Into the mosaic of victory I lay this priceless piece, my dearest son.”
I feel you could dive into the phrase a long way. The meaning in the context of lost lives during wartime is obvious. But maybe there is other, more subtle significance in it as well. I think what I loved most about Neil is his unquenchable spirit, his endless enthusiasm for life and stories. He seems perpetually selfless, bent on improving another’s day even when in the midst of a rough one of his own. It is as though his way of living is his ultimate priceless piece in the mosaic of victory.
Maybe we are the mosaic of victory. That regardless of the outcomes of the various circumstances we face, even with things as large as wars with munitions and wars with words, the way we are living through it becomes the mosaic of victory.
Please understand I do not wish to oversimplify or undervalue the immense sacrifices of our veterans in any degree.
I’m just thinking out loud. And I like the feel of that phrase: Mosaic of victory. A cooperative, collaborative creation of something meaningful and beautiful. Perhaps in some ways this is why we pause to honor our veterans, with special recognition for their particular and highly-sacrificial collaboration in this massive mosaic.