NOTE: This article originally appeared as “It’s Been a Reflective Week at Northern Essex Community College,” part of a weekly email newsletter distribution, on November 16, 2012.
Veteran’s Day last Sunday was an opportunity for all of us, including Big Sis T and Little Sis Z, to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have served our country in the military, and to express our appreciation.
Since the Vietnam War, the “Remembrance Table” has been a feature of most formal dining ceremonies on military bases and in banquet halls around the world. Although the table’s appearance may vary depending on the branch of service and the occasion, it is typically a small table, set with simple, symbolic items, and a lone chair, in honor of those who have fallen in the line of duty, are missing in action, or prisoners of war.
Margot Theis Raven writes about this moving tradition in a children’s book called America’s White Table, in which a young girl and her mother prepare a Veteran’s Day dinner for her Uncle John, and set a remembrance table with a white cloth, a lemon slice, grains of salt, a black napkin, an empty glass, a white candle, a red rose, and an empty chair—symbols of a soldier’s pure heart, tears of loved ones, the sorrow of captivity, those who are missing, and hope for their return.
A few years ago, we sent copies of America’s White Table to all of the veterans in our family. And now, each Veteran’s Day, Big Sis and Little Sis set a white table at our house, then call the grandpas (and now an uncle, recently returned from Afghanistan), and they take turns reading the book to each other over the phone, next to the table.
Near the end of the story, reflecting on her Uncle John’s service and what he means to her, the young girl traces the word “Hero” in the grains of salt on the table. It is Big Sis and Little Sis’ favorite part of the book, and whichever one of them is reading when that page is turned, her voice swells with love, gratitude, and pride…
[A special note: There are 138 active military or veteran students currently enrolled at NECC. We have been designated a “Military Friendly School” by G.I. Jobs for the quality and range of services we provide to veterans, which include one-stop enrollment events, social gatherings, and a Veterans Writing Group facilitated by English Professor Paul Saint-Amand, and we provide academic credit for military experience through the Veterans’ Access, Livelihood, Opportunity, and Resources (VALOR) Act.]
As you look back on your week, and forward to the one ahead, may you get where you’re going and be thankful for those who supported and sacrificed for you along the way.